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A Year In Books - My Top Reads of 2022

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

In 2022, I took a more active focus on my own personal reading. I often stress the importance of reading for children, but over time had somehow forgotten to do the same for myself and for other adults. People can often think that after the formal education is completed - you've already learned your reading, writing, and arithmetic - that the benefits of daily reading are diminished, but that's far from true. Reading for adults can:

  • provide brain stimulation, which can slow the progress of dementia and Alzheimer's

  • reduce stress, is linked to reducing depression, and therefore also supports improved sleep

  • improve focus and concentration

  • improve empathy for others through reading about the lives of other people

  • increase general knowledge

I don't know about you, but all of those things sound pretty awesome to me! That's why I finally got a card for my public library, began visiting my local bookstores to build up my own home collection, and started using apps for audiobooks and ebooks. In addition, I also joined a book club. 😲 Believe me, I never thought I'd be a "club" kind of person because - Hi, have you met me yet? I'm super socially awkward and avoid group settings at almost all cost. However, when you get lucky enough to find the right group of ladies that love books as much as you do, that awkwardness doesn't really matter anymore.

So, without any further fluff or introduction, here are my Top 12 Books of 2022 in no particular order:

When a child goes missing at an opulent house party, it makes international news. But what really happened behind those closed doors? Twelve years ago, Mila Jackson’s three-year-old half-sister Coco disappeared during their father’s fiftieth birthday celebration, leaving behind her identical twin Ruby as the only witness. The girls’ father, Sean, was wealthy and influential, as were the friends gathered at their seaside vacation home for the weekend’s debauchery. The case ignited a media frenzy and forever changed the lives of everyone involved. Now, Sean Jackson is dead, and the people who were present that terrible night must gather once more for a funeral that will reveal that the secrets of the past can never stay hidden.

I discovered Alex Marwood with her novel The Wicked Girls, found in a second hand bookstore. The way she writes was immediately appealing to me. Her character development is so fluid and in-depth without the drone of what feels like useless details that the characters truly feel like people you might know in real life. The same was for the characters in The Darkest Secret. Her intent to show how immoral and uncaring they were in their lifestyle - secrets, affairs, irresponsibility, avoidance of consequences - was spot on. Not only did I think "I could name these real people in the world", I had visceral reactions to their dialogue as if they were saying their excuses and straight to my face. I felt hot hate for some of them, and the main character was someone that easily felt like a friend - mistakes and all. The time jumps between the original timeline of the missing child to the current day funeral are easy to follow and tie everything in together quite nicely. It was twisted and, while of course the big reveal in the plot is the truth about what happened on the original night in question when the child goes missing, but there are so many other little surprises and reveals about the different characters that the story keeps you engaged and interested without the overwhelm of having too many moving parts.

The bestselling historical fiction novel from Kim Michele Richardson, this is a novel following Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian and her quest to bring books to the Appalachian community she loves, perfect for readers of William Kent Kreuger and Lisa Wingate. The perfect addition to your next book club! The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome's got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy's not only a book woman, however, she's also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she's going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler. Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.

I'm such a sucker for historical fiction based in the south. This novel works in not only one part of the odd history of Kentucky (The Blue People), but the history of learning and literacy. I absolutely loved reading this perspective of a people with not a lot of opportunity finding ways to make it work and find joy. Stereotypes of Kentucky are well known, and this novel gave a different side of the "dumb hillbilly" stereotype - the characters in this story desperately wanted to learn and the Packhorse Librarians were their saving grace. To think that we have such easy access to books now, when in the past the librarians were risking their lives to deliver them to families, is amazing to me. There is another book about the Packhorse Librarians in Kentucky, The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, which I also read this year. It was a good book in it's own right, but I did enjoy the characters, story, and writing of The Bookwoman more.

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping story and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

This book is a heavy hitter. I always find myself really enjoying the simple stories about regular lives - and by simple I mean normal, no big climactic, dramatic reveal or creepy back story. It's literally just a family coming to terms with their own decisions, consequences, choices, and adjusting to the things they are dealt in life. The family at the core of this story unfolds each of their perspectives of both their lives leading up to the event (Lydia going missing) and how they are handling the trauma in the aftermath. As a parent, this book really makes you think about how you mold your children and what children are able to keep inside hidden when they don't want to disappoint or cause problems. It truly is a great reminder to be more open ended in conversations and interactions so our children have the opportunity to honestly express themselves without fear of judgement. *Trigger warning - this book does include discussion of suicide as a possible answer to why Lydia disappeared.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than 20 years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family - especially her teenage son - as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others - and themselves - might be wrong. With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion - and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Jodi Picoult immediately became one of my favorite new authors after reading this book, and I've gone on to read more of her work and have plenty more on my TBR. This story tackles one of the most difficult and somehow still prevalent social issues plaguing our world with both grit and grace. Picoult also finds a way to make you connect with or even empathize with the characters despite differences in your own life and those of the characters. The characters are all such deeply layered and thought out personalities that even the most vile characters expose some level of humility and a way to see the original person underneath the circumstances of their lives. Picoult also doesn't shy away from including her "good" characters in questionable acts, showing that all humans are capable of anything given the situation and motivation because the human experience is never just black or white, this or that.

Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants - the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming - until one of them mysteriously disappears.... Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case. When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past - and a voice that won't be silenced....

Simone St. James also became an immediate new fave after reading this novel, as well as The Sundown Motel. She fluidly and gracefully intertwines different storylines, timelines, and both natural and supernatural factors into her novels. I've always been a fan of the spooky stuff, and I truly love the delicate touches of it throughout her writings. It makes it even more haunting, in my opinion. This book does a great job linking up the lives of the current time journalist, her older sister's death, and the historical timelines of the 4 girls and each of their individual life stories. It sounds like a lot to keep straight, but St. James has a perfect style that makes it all quite easy to follow and keep up with. I also enjoy that all of her novels have multiple layers of closure attained throughout the development of the story.

Three generations. Three daughters. One house of secrets. The truth can shatter everything.... When the Harrington family discovers an abandoned baby deep in the woods, they decide to keep her a secret and raise her as their own. But within days a body is found in the grounds of their house and their perfect new family implodes. Years later, Sylvie, seeking answers to nagging questions about her life, is drawn into the wild beautiful woods where nothing is quite what it seems. Will she unearth the truth? And dare she reveal it?

This book felt almost magical when reading it. The descriptive language used for the forest, the characters, the home, their daily lives, allows the reader to feel fully immersed in their world. This is another book told in alternating timelines that converge at the resolution. The main character in the past timeline, Big Rita, is immediately likeable. No, lovable. I truly enjoyed her character, every unsure and shy and awkward moment of her. The pieces were mostly easy to put together after a point but it was still enjoyable to experience the characters putting the pieces together. It also had a nice heartwarming ending that wrapped up the whole package in a pretty bow that I really liked.

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all? Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows Laura has spent nearly her whole life in the small beach town of Belle Isle, Georgia; she knows Laura's never wanted anything more than to lead a quiet, normal life in this conventional community; she knows Laura's a kind and beloved speech pathologist who helps others; she knows Laura's never kept a secret in her life. Andrea knows that Laura is everything she isn't—confident, settled, sure of herself. Feeling listless, with no direction, Andrea, unlike Laura, struggles to find her way. But Andrea's certainty is upended when a visit to the mall is shattered by an act of horrifying violence that reveals a completely different side of Laura—a cool woman who calmly faces down a murderer. It turns out that before Andrea's mother was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly 30 years, she's been hiding from the woman she once was, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she's been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again. The assailant was a mentally troubled teenaged scion of Georgia law enforcement royalty, and now the police want answers about what really happened in those terrifying moments at the mall. Though she's being scrutinized at every level of the criminal justice system and her innocence is on the line, Laura refuses to speak to anyone, including her own daughter. She pushes Andrea away, insisting it's time for her to stand alone and make a life for herself. To save her mother, Andrea embarks on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother's past. Andrea knows that if she can't uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for her mother...or her.

Filled with intriguing turns, surprising revelations, and a compelling cast of characters, Pieces of Her is Slaughter's most electrifying, provocative, and suspenseful novel yet.

Another wonderful novel by Slaughter. I can't stop reading her work! This one is very interesting, as it focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter not being what it may seem instead of the typical romantic relationship that turns sour or something of the like. It's full of twists and wild discoveries, and the characters were physically visible in my mind while I read. It pulls in social issues, relationships of all levels, and how those things can make people do things that even they wouldn't expect themselves to do. It is a Netflix series now, but I will warn that the series is unfortunately so lackluster in comparison to the book that I couldn't even finish watching it.

They only come when it snows, and nobody ever gets away. A group of close friends gathers at a secluded cabin in the wintry mountains of Colorado for a final holiday hurrah. Instead, it may be their last stand. First a massive blizzard leaves them marooned. Then the more chilling realization: Something is lurking in the woods, watching them, waiting....Now a weekend of family, friends, and fun has turned into a test of love and loyalty in the face of inhuman horrors. The only hope for those huddled inside is to fight - tooth and nail, bullet and blade - for their lives. Otherwise, they’ll end up like the monsters’ other victims: bright pools of blood on glittering snow, screams lost in the vast mountains.

This is one of my first horror/thriller books that isn't psychological. It's strictly a supernatural style horror novel, and it is good. Not only does Ahlborn do an amazing job to create the characters and convey their emotions to a point that you feel like you've known them their whole lives despite only finding out their histories together, the setting and scenery is so vivid that it also feels like somewhere you've physically been before. It's creepy, and the fact that certain details are never clarified, certain things never answered, makes it even more so without making the reader feel as though they were left unfulfilled.

A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery. An upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel. A gutsy woman with a stubborn dream. A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it.

It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana...and an East Texas honky-tonk...and, without a doubt, inside the heart of God. It unfolds at a Hollywood upscale New York gallery...a downtown dumpster...a Texas ranch.

Gritty with betrayal, pain, and brutality, it also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.

I can't say I would have gone for this book in another setting, but while at a Storytelling event in a small town I was able to peruse the crates of books set out in the dirt by a mobile county library van. All were free for the taking, just to help clear room on the library's shelves for newer titles and to help get books back into the community. I began digging through the crates for my son, but this one ended up in my hands and I couldn't put it back. I initially assumed it would be able to the unlikely career and rags to riches story of a homeless man, but that was the tiniest part of this story. It was a lovely tale about friendship and love that had me in tears a few times.

The year 1978: At her renowned treatment center in picturesque Vermont, the brilliant psychiatrist Dr. Helen Hildreth is acclaimed for her compassionate work with the mentally ill. But when’s she home with her cherished grandchildren, Vi and Eric, she’s just Gran—teaching them how to take care of their pets, preparing them home-cooked meals, providing them with care and attention and love. Then one day Gran brings home a child to stay with the family. Iris—silent, hollow-eyed, skittish, and feral—does not behave like a normal girl. Still, Violet is thrilled to have a new playmate. She and Eric invite Iris to join their Monster Club, where they catalogue all kinds of monsters and dream up ways to defeat them. Before long, Iris begins to come out of her shell. She and Vi and Eric do everything together: ride their bicycles, go to the drive-in, meet at their clubhouse in secret to hunt monsters. Because, as Vi explains, monsters are everywhere. The year 2019: Lizzy Shelley, the host of the popular podcast Monsters Among Us, is traveling to Vermont, where a young girl has been abducted, and a monster sighting has the town in an uproar. She’s determined to hunt it down, because Lizzy knows better than anyone that monsters are real—and one of them is her very own sister. A haunting, vividly suspenseful thriller from the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson” (Chris Bohjalian, author of The Flight Attendant), The Children on the Hill takes us on a breathless journey to face the primal fears that lurk within us all.

This book was very enjoyable. It had a haunting quality, the atmosphere created by the writer, the apparent seclusion in the 1978 timeline. It was an easy read, and while I was able to guess one of the big reveals, I was still pleasantly surprised by some of the events that played out. It was a very interesting take on the questionable psychiatric treatments of the past, as well as the different ways that a person can develop and grow from similar traumas. I don't want to say too much, because I'm honestly afraid I'd end up giving something away and the best part of this book is how many reveals are made by the end that you likely won't expect.

Nestled in the Appalachian mountains, Owsley County is one of the poorest counties in both Kentucky and the country. Buildings are crumbling and fields sit vacant, as tobacco farming and coal mining decline. But strong women are finding creative ways to subsist in their hollers in the hills. Cassie Chambers grew up in these hollers, and through the women who raised her, she traces her own path out of and back into the Kentucky mountains. Chambers' granny was a child bride who rose before dawn every morning to raise seven children. Despite her poverty, she wouldn’t hesitate to give the last bite of pie or vegetables from her garden to a struggling neighbor. Her two daughters took very different paths: strong-willed Ruth - the hardest-working tobacco farmer in the county - stayed on the family farm, while spirited Wilma - the sixth child - became the first in the family to graduate from high school, then moved an hour away for college. Married at 19 and pregnant with Cassie a few months later, Wilma beat the odds to finish school. She raised her daughter to think she could move mountains, like the ones that kept her safe but also isolated her from the larger world. Cassie would spend much of her childhood with Granny and Ruth in the hills of Owsley County, both while Wilma was in college and after. With her "hill women" values guiding her, Cassie went on to graduate from Harvard Law. But while the Ivy League gave her knowledge and opportunities, its privileged world felt far from her reality, and she moved back home to help her fellow rural Kentucky women by providing free legal services. Appalachian women face issues that are all too common: domestic violence, the opioid crisis, a world that seems more divided by the day. But they are also community leaders, keeping their towns together in the face of a system that continually fails them. With nuance and heart, Chambers uses these women’s stories paired with her own journey to break down the myth of the hillbilly and illuminate a region whose poor communities, especially women, can lead it into the future.

For anyone wishing to read a Kentucky author's retelling of the grit and grace it has taken the people of Appalachia to rise above all the hands they're dealt, this is the one. Yes, it is focused on the women because it's told from the perspective of a woman and in the south, the women are the cogs and the oil that keep all things running. It gave me the warmest feelings of nostalgia for the days of my childhood running through the hills, wading in the creeks, and the simplicity of it all. It also gave me the opportunity to take a look back at the how harshly I had viewed my upbringing for a while. Not because I felt it was lacking, but because the world tells you that Appalachia is poor and pitiful and embarrassing. I hate that in my younger years, fresh out of high school and thinking I knew everything, I fell into that embarrassment and shame of my heritage for a period of time. I'm so glad that I found my way back to loving the mountains I was raised in, along with all the strange and unique things it taught me about the way I live my life (not strange to me, but after cycling through college roommates and sharing living quarters with people from the north it's been made very clear that people outside Appalachia are super unfamiliar with a lot of our common practices!). This book shows not only the struggles, but how the people carry on, bounce back, and of course sometimes don't. I fell in love with it and Cassie's family, as they all were people I could name from my own holler as a child. The real standout quality was that this book avoids the typical negative focus of the hardships of Appalachia, focusing instead on the strength to get through it. (Please, please read THIS book and not Hillbilly Elegy.)

You have been cut off from society for 15 years, shut away in a mental hospital in self-imposed exile as punishment for the terrible thing you did when you were a child. But what if nothing about your past is as it seems? And if you didn't accidentally shoot and kill your mother, then whoever did is still out there. Waiting for you. For a decade and a half, Rachel Cunningham has chosen to lock herself away in a psychiatric facility, tortured by gaps in her memory and the certainty that she is responsible for her parents' deaths. But when she learns new details about their murders, Rachel returns, in a quest for answers, to the place where she once felt safest: her family's sprawling log cabin in the remote forests of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As Rachel begins to uncover what really happened on the day her parents were murdered, she learns - as her mother did years earlier - that home can be a place of unspeakable evil and that the bond she shares with her sister might be the most poisonous of all.

I find memory to be very intriguing, and this novel allows you to follow the main character while she replays her own memories and realizes how some have been altered to fit the story she has been told for so long. I really enjoyed getting to follow Rachel as she relearns who she thinks she is and her perspective and outlook changes as she uncovers more and more details about her own life. It was a fast read, easy to follow, and quite enjoyable.

Seraphina & Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans live and work side by side - while below the surface, tensions and hostility simmer. The newest member of the royal court, a uniquely gifted musician named Seraphina, holds a deep secret of her own. One that she guards with all of her being. When a member of the royal family is brutally murdered, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation alongside the dangerously perceptive - and dashing - Prince Lucien. But as the two uncover a sinister plot to destroy the wavering peace of the kingdom, Seraphina’s struggle to protect her secret becomes increasingly difficult...while its discovery could mean her very life.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself - for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she's held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

I love watching fantasy films, but I've always struggle to read fantasy books (aside from Harry Potter). However, this set of books sucked me in immediately and I fell in love. It has a very interesting take on dragons that I'd never seen before, in which they are able to take human form and mate with humans, resulting in a being that appears human until at some point in their live they begin to grow scales somewhere on their body and develop some special ability. I loved the story line, and loved the characters. The members of royalty were portrayed very well, as they weren't pious or snobbish and were right in the mix with everyone else for the most part. It was very entertaining.

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