My Reading Year in 2022

Courtesy of Goodreads

In 2022, I read 66 books and 20,460 pages, or an average of 310 pages per book. In comparison to 2021, my reading decreased by 10 books and 3,104 pages, and the average number of pages per book remained exactly the same.

The shortest book I read in 2022 is We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I did not enjoy this novel as much as Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, although it is a well-known and renowned story and is so for a reason. As someone who aspires to writing, myself, I do find it commendable that Jackson is able to accomplish so much through the novella, and think it is can be a lesson for all writers out there that writing shorter works does not mean writing lesser works.

The longest book I read is The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. This book featured great writing and good characterization… but I didn’t enjoy it was much as I was hoping. This book is well written, but sad. Read when you’re in the mood for a sad book.

In comparison to 2021, Jackson’s work is 44 pages longer than Hannah Lee Kidder’s Starlight, and Quinn’s work is 48 pages longer than Tana French’s The Witch Elm.

The most popular novel I read is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. In my opinion, worth the hype. Flynn is a great writer, her characters are fascinating and terrible and purposefully unreliable. I devoured this novel, and would recommend it to anyone and everyone. The movie is also decent – Rosamund Pike is an excellent Amy, Ben Stiller is a meh Nick, but Carrie Coon does an impeccable job as his sister. Plus, Missi Pyle is in it, and y’all know I like Missi Pyle. Like many works, however, the book is better.

The least popular novel I read is The Wake and the Manuscript by Ansgar Allen. This one was an ARC I received through Netgalley, and I think it is well done for what it is, but it’s not for me. It’s very stream-of-consciousness, philosophical, unreliable narrator. If you don’t mind meandering through the inner workings of someone else’s mentally unhinged mind, this one may be for you, though! Of the people who have read it, most who have rated it on Goodreads have enjoyed (this book actually has the highest rating on Goodreads of everything I read in 2022).

My average rating for 2022 is 3.4 stars. So I liked the shit I read this year .1 stars more than last year.

The first book I reviewed in 2022 was Marion Meade’s biography on Dorothy Parker, titled Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? I really enjoyed this one.

The last book I reviewed in 2022 is Carrie Adams’ The Godmother. I didn’t much care for it.

Overall, I read a lot more than I should have, wrote a lot less than I wanted to, and feel pretty mediocre about 2022. Let’s hope 2023 is better.

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

5-Star Reads in 2022

Honestly, 2022 was not a great reading year for me. There were only five 5-star reads, one of which was a re-read, one of which is considered a classic literary read, and two of which are by well-established authors.

  • Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – A re-read. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s utterly delightful book about armageddon. The physical book is good. The audiobook is good. If you haven’t read this one yet… you should.
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood: A memoir of Roald Dahl – Roald Dahl, writer of amazing children’s books including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, BFG, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and, of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has a fascinating background. Did y’all know he was a spy in WWII? This book is before all of that – it details Dahl’s pretty difficult boyhood, including the time he almost got his nose sliced off, the horrors of English schools and their reigns of caning terror, told with a matter-of-factness that displays a pragmatic lens through which to view life that is refreshing and will probably make you feel like you’re at least a little bit of a wimp.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – I don’t know why it took me so long to read Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, but this book was absolutely beautiful. The dialogue does feel a bit dated (which the book is, having been penned in the late fifties), but the story and the writing still shines. The book’s influence on horror is evident and astounding. In short, Jackson was a genius, and thus far, this is the best work of hers that I have read.
  • Autoboyography: This book kind of snuck up on me. The publisher was allowing readers to download e-reader copies around Halloween, and I picked this one on a bit of a whim. And it was sweet and funny and charming and sophisticated, and I loved every single bit of it. It’s a YA, coming-of-age love story set in Salt Lake City. LGBTQ+ elements, parental and religious expectations factor into the storyline, and while I didn’t grow up Mormon, I also had a fairly Midwestern religious background and the feeling of community that can so quickly be taken away was still recognizable.
  • Book of Night: I have enjoyed Black’s work since her debut novel Tithe, which I grabbed a copy of when it first came out. Holly is an amazing writer. This novel is her considered her first “adult” novel, and it. Is. Fantastic. Fantasy is not one of my go-to genres, but when I read it, this novel is the type of fantasy novel I enjoy. The beautiful writing would make it a commendable book no matter what, but on top of that, the book includes a magical world that is quickly and easily graspable, it is peopled with characters who are too cool for me but a shitload of fun to spend time with, and the storyline is bracing. It goes at a quick pace, and keeps that pace throughout the novel, and I truly enjoyed every bit of this novel (except for the last few pages) so very, very much.
Holly Black signs a book for a fan at the National Book Festival, September 3, 2022. Photo by Elaina Finkelstein/Library of Congress.

Those were my five-star reads for 2022 – what were yours? I would desperately like 2023 to be a more enjoyable reading year, so please give me potential additions for my TBR! (I also hope your 5-star list is bigger than mine!)

Drown the Positive

Polly Tremaine has spent 30 years trying to avoid the drama that came from her short stint at childhood stardom, but in a matter of days, forced to do an assignment she doesn’t want, she will realize that it doesn’t matter that she changed her name, changed her career, altered her appearance and moved to another country – once she’s set foot in L.A., she’s once more surrounded by death as something, or someone, seems out to get her. Will Polly be able to Burn the Negative, or is she destined to become a victim herself…?

Josh Winning’s Burn the Negative is campy good fun. Written in homage to the seventies, eighties and nineties horror books and movies that were not always well done but were usually enjoyable to certain stans (you know who you are), this book is for the fans. With a style reminiscent of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, this book is delicious – the beluga caviar of horror novels. It’s rich and full, and you should pay your $27 at the bookstore, and sit back and enjoy the twists and turns Winning throws at you.

If you do not like older horror films, don’t know what a Final Girl is, and are not a fan of gore — this book’s not for you, and I don’t want to go so far as to say that you definitely will not enjoy it, but I also cannot guarantee that you will. This book was written by someone who stared Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason and his mother in the eyes through a pre-Roku TV, felt a thrill in his heart, and decades later, took that thrill and weaved it into a novel. This book is for those who secretly wondered, just a tiny bit, in the dark recesses of their being, if they were taunting a serial killer by losing their virginity. This book is for the people who understand that of course Alex had to kill all of the kids who thought they were his friends on Prom Night, because he knew what they had done and they didn’t even feel sorry for it.

I truly enjoyed this book, and if you are a fellow retro-horror stan, I highly recommend, as I think you will too.

ARC Review: Killing Me

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be abducted by a serial killer? Well, Amber Jamison doesn’t have to wonder, because it has happened to her before the beginning of Michelle Gagnon’s cozy-ish mystery Killing Me.

Amber had always prided herself on her street smarts… but feels distinctly less smart after she is abducted by a killer who first turns his fetish-female type into Pokemon doppelgangers before slicing and dicing.

She narrowly makes her escape, with the help of a gorgeous woman, who could be her savior… or something darker altogether.

Peopled with a cast of colorful characters, Gagnon’s Killing Me will keep you interested, keep you guessing, and keep you on your toes as you continue to read to discern whether Amber and all of her friends will manage to survive.

Slated for release May 2023. Trigger warning: It does primarily take place in Las Vegas, so… if you’ve done shady shit in Vegas you don’t want to be reminded of, this book probably won’t help.

Writing Treat: ARC Book Review

After NaNoWriMo, your self-imposed writing retreat;

Is over, whether you win or have to admit defeat

Never fear, Julia Bartz will appear,

it is clear,

in bookstores February of next year.

The Netgalley gods have been smiling upon me a bit lately, including recent bestowal of Julia Bartz’ The Writing Retreat. Slated to be published in February 2023, in case you ignored my poorly crafted poem above, this novel was a treat.

The novel follows protagonist Alex, who is struggling through the sludge that is her life, including a massive case of writer’s block, in the opportunity of a lifetime. Joining 4 other talented young female writers at a month-long retreat in the reclusive home of one of her favorite authors, Alex wonders if she will be able to work through her writer’s block… and then things get weird.

This novel is a thriller encapsulated in an isolated setting (possibly haunted mansion in Northeast America) in February (cue the snow) with writers (meaning everything is open to interpretation and could possibly be hallucination, fictionalization, or enmeshment between the author’s work and the author’s life). The characters are a bit flat, which makes them harder to read in what is most certainly a plot-driven novel. Leave your own writing insecurities at the door, and follow along with Alex and the other lovely lady novelists, who will most likely experience these insecurities for you! I had no idea what was going to happen in this rollercoaster of a novel where extreme highs or lows could be around every curve of the tracks.

Highly recommend! And am now craving more great books featuring writers… so if you have one, please let me know in the comments below, so I can add it to my neverending TBR.

What it looks like when stream-of-consciousness analyzes an unfinished book

I did not know what I was getting myself into with Samantha Hunt’s The Unwritten Book: An Investigation, but I am so very glad that I was lucky enough to receive a Netgalley ARC. Hunt’s writing is thoughtful, interesting, intelligent, wandering… and in my opinion, well worth the read.

Although Hunt is probably best known for her fiction work, such as Belletriste’s pick The Dark Dark, this book is mostly nonfiction. I say “mostly” because interspersed throughout the book are excerpts of Samantha’s deceased father’s unfinished book. In addition, this book reads more like a collection of loosely related essays/musings than a more traditional narrative non-fiction book where each chapter builds on what came before. Hunt’s book could literally be read in any order, except for the excerpts of her father’s book. This book, which analyzes the writing from the partial book that Papa Hunt left behind, experiences Samantha had with both her father and her own experiences parenting her children, and general musings/information, is interesting. It feels like spending time with a friend — a very educated, empathetic, slightly lost friend. This friend is trying to navigate her way through losing a parent, being a parent, and being a person.

And really… aren’t we all? I highly, highly recommend.

Wow – This is a Really Shitty Book Review

In August, I read Alexa Donne’s book The Ivies recently, and… didn’t much care for it. It had okay writing, and I actually really loved the murderer, but I won’t go into details in case you want to read this murder-mystery, since a large part of the enjoyment of a murder-mystery is trying to figure whodunnit. So after posting a mediocre review on Goodreads, I checked out some of the other reviews, as I am wont to do, and… this one really stuck out to me:

I think my blog post title makes my opinion of this review quite clear. As someone who reviews books quite frequently myself, I thought it was worth exploring why I think the particular book review I included screenshots of above is a terrible one, and what I think does make a good book review. I would love to hear your insight, as well – maybe there is something that I should be keeping in mind as a self-appointed book reviewer that is not currently on my radar.

I’ll start off by saying that I do not disagree with everything in Alex Nguyen’s review. I think that, as a prominent AuthorTuber, it is fair to put this review in context. I also think it is completely fair to hold someone who publishes videos on the internet proclaiming to be an expert on writing to a higher standard. Alexa Donne’s internet/author brand is that she is so good at writing, she can give you tips on how to be a better writer, as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. As someone who is branding herself this way, I expect excellent writing in the genre that she writes (this particular novel is YA thriller). I also liked that Alex Nguyen provided both pros and cons – almost no book is without merit, so pointing out what was done well and what, specifically, Alex disagrees gives the review an appearance of fairness.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. My largest problem with this particular book review is that it gets personal. Disliking the book, making fun of the writing style, the plot devices, the characters, the publishing industry are all fair game in my book. Making assumptions about the author and personally attacking the author are completely inappropriate.

The first inkling that this review is going a bit sideways is the off-hand remark that Alexa is casually racist against white people, a remark that immediately sets off my alarm bells, because nearly everyone I have ever met who makes a remark like that is, in fact, racist. Someone makes a remark like that, and as a person-of-color, I identify that person as someone to be extremely cautious around. This remark is ended with the contemptuous, supercilious remark that Alexa is “not the brightest bulb or the most self-respecting” person. This last remark is a personal attack against Alexa Donne. It is cruel, unconstructive, and identifies the reviewer as someone who is extremely biased in a way that casts doubt on that reviewer’s ability to accurately assess the book, because it indicates that this reviewer has negative feelings about the author whose book is being reviewed that may make them inclined to view the book in a negative light regardless of its’ merit.

So at this point everyone looking at the review for meaningful analysis or an idea of whether or not they will like the book should just stop reading. Nothing that comes afterward can be taken seriously, because it is clear that the person writing the review may not be able to separate the art from the artist.

But sure, let’s keep reading, right? Why not.

The list of pros is generally pithy, until the last bullet point, which comes across as judgmental and also seems to miss the mark. I think it is generally known that teenagers trying to get into an Ivy League school can have a myopic vision that makes it difficult for them to consider alternatives and put things into perspective. In fact, even teenagers not trying to get into an Ivy League school can have difficulty with things like appropriate perspective. This novel features teenagers and is intended for a teenage audience. Anyone reading this review for purposes of analysis or determining whether or not they want to read this book should definitely stop here. Alex Nguyen has made it clear that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the target audience and characters in this novel. If Alex N. liked this novel, it would be shocking. Yet we can see the one-star review, so it’s clear that Alex N. did not like the novel.

But let’s continue reading, shall we?

The cons again include trigger words like “token poor girl,” “appropriation,” etc., that make it seem that a large part of this reviewer’s problem with the book is that it did not solely feature privileged white students, which is just… odd. The reviewer complains that these characters are included, because it “feels like” the author just included some diverse characters to pretend to be woke or something, then says that the book feels like a trashy novel. First of all, it is odd to assume you understand the author’s intentions for an issue like this one. Second, trashy novels are notorious for having flat characters who are not well fleshed out and for whom not a lot of thought was put into character development. So if it is, in fact, a trashy novel (not saying I agree with that characterization), then wouldn’t including diverse characters whom the author doesn’t include a lot of detail on be par for the course? Is this reviewer saying that trashy novels should only feature cis white people with money? Because it kind of feels like that is the subtext in these two points. Keep in mind that these two bullet points that complain about a smidge of diversity occurring in the novels and the privilege of some of the other characters being acknowledged are the two most lengthy con written points.

The “final thoughts” paragraph makes assumptions of the author’s fears and insecurities, prefaced with a half-hearted “perhaps.” Knowing when to stop editing, when to share with the world, is a leap, because similar to new parents, most writers never really feel completely prepared. It feels like a weird jump to assume that Alexa Donne didn’t write and publish the book of your personal dreams because she has a fairly successful Youtube channel.

The review ends with another judgmental snippet that basically says the only people who will enjoy the novel are her Youtube followers.

In summary, what I think makes the particular book review analyzed in this post a terrible book review is the use of personal assumptions about the author and a fundamental misunderstanding of the audience and characters of the book. The reviewer’s own remarks indicating that diversity in books could only be an attempt to placate the publishing industry’s push for acknowledging that non-white people of varying means, sexual orientation and gender identification exist doesn’t help, either.

I like honesty in book reviews. I’m okay with hyperbole to make a point. The issue is in making the review personal about the author rather than focused on the author’s work.

Welp, I think I’ve talked enough for the day. What do you think?

5-Star Reads from 2021

While analyzing my 2021 year in reading, I was bummed to realize that I didn’t really have a great year. So on a more positive note, here are the books that I read in 2021 that I really liked in a year that was, overall, fairly mediocre. That’s right, bitches: these are, in my opinion, five-star reads. And since my opinion is the right opinion, if you haven’t read any of these, you should probably add them to your TBR, so that you can have a better reading year in 2022 than I had last year.

  1. The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson

2. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata and translated into English by Ginny Tapley Takemori

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

4. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

5. Not Your Average Hot Guy by Gwenda Bond

6. Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Thinking about the content structure of these books, I do not really see a lot in common. There are varying genres, intended audiences, etc. I think I just like good writing…

So – what did you read in 2021 or recently that had great writing?

What is “Normal?”

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Finding Normal: Sex, Love, and Taboo in Our Hyperconnected World by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay. This non-fiction book analyzes the concept of “Normal,” and how the Internet has helped people with stigmatized desires find community and get answers to their questions without the judgment that others in society often inherently have.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a thoughtful analysis of the concept of normal and bias and what it means to have a supportive community. This analysis included positive and negative results of finding support for non-“normative” concepts. Having a concept of “normal” can sometimes result in people being closed-minded about things they simply do not understand, things that are not hurting other people, such as the first concept that Reay goes into great detail about: people who have open relationships and/or swingers. Reay looks at how people who needed such relationships prior to the internet struggled to find other people who understood them, and how the internet has helped all of them to find a community and engage in the relationship they need. I try to be an open-minded person, but of course, have my own biases, and not having had those particular desires myself, it was very interesting to read about their perspectives and felt a bit fairy-tale esque to read about how they were able to find acceptance through the internet.

However, sometimes, people engage in activity that is not considered “normal” for ethical reasons. Another taboo behavior that is discussed in the book is incest, which, if you are reading my blog, I will assume you agree from a biological and psychological perspective is just not okay. Reay writes about the concept of incestuous desires from a place of curiosity, but ultimately, the fact that there are parents who will act on these desires turns the community that such like-minded individuals have formed a bit darker. How, when you are looking at a parent-child relationship, can there not be a power dynamic at play? Children often want to please their parents, regardless of age, and this desire can be taken advantage of, even if the child sincerely believes he or she is a consenting adult.

There are also some grey areas, such as large age-gap relationships. There is the indisputable statutory rape age difference, for example, which is legally not allowed, since children cannot consent to sexual relationships with adults. But what about a 10-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their fifties? What about a 20-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their forties?

This blog post is providing just a taste of the thoughtful writing that Reay provides in this book, which includes multiple examples/interviews for each type of non-“normal” activity. If you are interested in the concept, and can read the information with an open mind, I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

My only gripe with this book is that the more taboo concepts are not as fully developed, and it feels like there is more room for analysis. Still, I am not certain that I could have written, or even read, more on those subjects. It is hard to spend time with concepts that are taboo and should remain that way. So this gripe is tiny, and purely from an analytical/editorial viewpoint in which I am trying to remain unbiased. Which basically means I was reading this book correctly, I think, since a lot of the point is to recognize that you have biases, and they may not all be fair, so once you recognize a bias, re-evaluate and figure out if you need to change your stance. I have this crazy theory that, like, if people were more intellectual and empathetic, and thought through how their behavior impacted other people, and tried to be more thoughtful and cool about what they went crazy about, the world might be a better place. As an American citizen, however, it is difficult for me ever seeing that happening, either, so… maybe just read the book and pretend?

My Reading Year in 2021

Courtesy of Goodreads

In 2021, I read 76 books and 23,564 pages, or an average of 310 pages per book. In comparison to 2020, my reading increased by 9 books and 1,078 pages, but the average number of pages per book decreased by 25 pages per book.

The shortest book I read in 2021 is Hannah Lee Kidder’s short story collection Starlight. I did not much care for the collection, which I rated 3 stars and found a bit of a mixed bag. Here is my review:

The longest book I read was Tana French’s The Witch Elm, which had interesting ideas but which I did not much care for. Here is my review:

In comparison to 2020, the short story collection Starlight is 35 pages longer than Gillian Flynn’s short story The Stranger, and The Witch Elm is 95 pages shorter than Plain Bad Heroines.

The most popular novel I read is another Jane Austen (what can I say? Austen’s one of my comfort reads) – this time, Sense & Sensibility. The lease popular novel I read does not have a cover, and Goodreads would not let me upload one, but it is The Fetish Murders by Avon Curry. The Fetish Murders is a pulp fiction thriller from the 1970s that is not very good, but is very fun if you like pulp fiction and are okay with the concept of reading fiction with very outdated cultural norms. The very purpose of The Fetish Murders is to shock and titillate by bringing up the idea of cross-dressing and homosexuality, which a lot of people (myself included) have absolutely no problem with anymore… So if you’re cool with reading it as a sort of historical/anthropological study of Americana, it’s kind of interesting. If you’re looking for legitimately good literature, or something that current educated cultural norms would not consider offensive… I would recommend steering clear.

Here’s the book – please ignore my fat thumb and the silhouette of my jeans.

My average rating for 2021 is 3.3 stars. A bit higher than average, but… not great. Much lower than 2020’s average rating of 3.8.

The first book I reviewed on Goodreads in 2021 was for the ARC Why She Wrote. I also wrote a blog post about this one, so won’t bore you by going into further detail here other than to say that for what it is, I thought it was pretty good.

I have a fascination and enjoyment with reading pulp fiction. At the end of the day, the books are generally all middle-of-the-road, average 3-star reads. But they’re fun and so much occurs in these novels and I derive a sort of comfort from them. I will continue reading them, and giving uninformative, likely one-sentence reviews on Goodreads.

Overall, I had a pretty disappointing reading year in 2021. How about you? Any great reads? I think I desperately need a better year in 2022, so would greatly appreciate any and all recommendations!