Books I Read in 2022

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. This one should have been a book I liked, because it is science fiction and set a little way into the future, so I recognize everything. It’s sort of post-apocalyptic, but no one “event” ever happened. It’s chillingly close to our current situation of wealth disparity, racism, hopelessness, climate change, and clueless politicians, and everything just got worse to the point of breaking. It’s set in a future where the wealthy have been able to spend their way into some sense of normalcy, some sense of clinging to the past, but many many people who used to be middle class are the new poor, and work thankless jobs to buy fiercely expensive water and mend their own clothes and grow their own food when they can or else starve. The previously poor, forget about it. They are slaves or prostitutes, but probably dead. So the protagonist, a teenage girl, decides she has to leave her suburb of LA and go north to seek a better life. The book sets up the terrible situation at home and shows the reader why she must go, then the rest of the book is her going. There is a second story, of the protagonist inventing a religion, in which she finds parallels to sowing seeds and growing things and harvesting. For all this focus on growing food, it was a little annoying that the people in the book apparently have ripe fruit and vegetables all year round, fresh pears in January and such. Maybe that’s how it works in southern California, I shouldn’t judge. The story was too slow, basically following people day by day as they walk north, with some chaos thrown in. There was an earthquake where Californians totally overreact, there’s a wildfire that is described well, there’s free water available as they get north of San Francisco, which is legit. There’s drugs and violence. Anyway, the religion started to seem like the main reason the author wrote the book, and I could barely stand it. I’m staunchly atheist and this constant talk of God and Bible-like verses, and the reactions of people to the new religion was so annoying. I think the idea of the religion was fine: get used to change, you are your own destiny, etc. is great. That’s how I live my life right now. So why make a religion out of it?
  2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Enjoyable. Count Alexander Rostov is convicted and sentenced to house arrest in 1922 in the enormous Hotel Metropol in Moscow. I questioned the failure to address another perspective of why the Count was on house arrest to begin with. The book didn’t really cover what led up to the revolt and the conditions outside the hotel, and I would have liked to learn more about it than what could be gleaned in the story. I found interesting irony that apparently, he was there – and not killed – because he published a poem under his name instead of Mishka’s, when his friend Mishka was afraid of getting into trouble. Overall, I enjoyed the writing and the characters very much, and I couldn’t help but think about Russia as I read the book. I wish I had learned more about Russia in the story, but rather I was reminded of the deep goodness and humanity of some people that can be found in every single country in the world, even Russia in 2022. It was also funny and entertaining, and what a clever tool for the author to use: keeping the man within the walls of a single hotel, so that the scope could plausibly be narrowed down so far that we were forced to think only about personalities and relationships. It was lovely.
  3. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. This is a re-released edition of Sanderson’s first published book ever. It’s a very cool story, and this edition has Sanderson’s comments about writing it, and as a gift he gives us chapters and scenes that were deleted from the final version. A strange catastrophe happened ten years earlier, and the occupants of the city of Elantris suddenly lost their powers to create, mend, feed, and heal. Neighboring cities were thrown into chaos when they could no longer rely on Elantris to guide them. People are still afflicted by the condition that wipes out powers, and the afflicted are easily detected by the changes on their skin and their loss of hair. These people are thrown into the city of Elantris, which becomes a leper colony of sorts. Characters include a clever princess who knows the power she wields, a prince afflicted and thrown into the city at the beginning of the story who begins to build hope in the community, a terrible king, a good uncle, a wicked priest – isn’t there always a delicious wicked priest. Unlike his later epics, Sanderson pretty much wraps it up in a single volume, and we get some explanation, some unscrambled misunderstandings, some revenge, some resolution, and yeah – sweet love and a marriage between two people who should be together.
  4. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. The main character, Marie, is awake (thankfully), when an intruder breaks into her house in the night and attacks her. She tells her scared little boys it’s ok, and dispatches the intruder. The police come and ask all the questions and let her know they’ll be following up. Marie knows that her chances of getting a fair chance at justice as a black American spy are slim, and decides to leave the country. She goes to the island of Martinique to be with her mom, and she decides she needs to leave again to settle unfinished business. Before she goes, as insurance, she writes a long letter to her small twin boys. This is what makes up most of the book: Marie telling the boys her story. It’s fascinating, well told, based on real life events.
  5. Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockart and Daniel Mulilo Chama. When this book ended I said out loud, “That was beautiful.” Somehow the authors took some of the most painful and disturbing concepts to grapple with – all falling under the category of Innocents Suffering – and tell this story in a way that opens your heart. It’s about four children who live and work as garbage pickers, beggars, thieves, and prostitutes in one area of Lusaka, Zambia. Their lives touch each others in ways they don’t even realize. It is told as a novel, but advertised as a true story. The overarching fable, called Walking the Bowl, seems like wildly misplaced optimism in a community like this, with death and drugs and starvation, but somehow it works. The book discusses corruption and failures of government as though they are inevitable. I was educated about the lives of street children in Lusaka, and while the authors only mildly judged the children themselves when they made bad choices, I felt judged as a privileged reader. If children live like this anywhere in the world, are we not complicit? I’m not sure if I can believe it is all exactly a true story, but I can believe a great part of it is true. I was often reminded of the recognizable humanity that emerged among the people of the slums of Bombay described in Shantaram, but this was much darker.
  6. Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke. I can’t help it; I love Dave Robicheaux and his demons and his temper and his bad decisions. This time he tries to both get revenge and help an innocent young black man by going under cover on an operation by the DEA. He is able to hand over evidence to clear the young man’s name, and he gets his revenge, but not by his own hands. I hope he knows that its easy to be magnanimous when your enemy has very little hope of survival. More suffering as a result of horrors of Vietnam are revealed. He falls in love again, and maybe because all parties know the relationship is certainly doomed, he marries her.
  7. Invasion by Terrance Mulloy. Weird little freebie from It begins in the future with a young cop who gets to go and arrest some bad guys for the first time. It was slow to gain my interest, or maybe it never did. The guy makes an arrest and has custody when the Earth is attacked by aliens. The cop and the criminal soon witness massive destruction and widespread massacres. It is the introductory chapter to the rest of the story, which I won’t be purchasing. The writing is not very good, the violence tropes are a little too tired and predictable, there is nothing to make me think the rest of the story will offer anything new and interesting in the way of sci fi.
  8. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Two main thoughts: one is that this book could have been better if Lewis built it up and got the readers involved in how things came to pass. He starts describing murders on every page and it’s so casual a mention that I was never horrified, just surprised. His point is to show that the society in the book considers murders unimportant, but the book was too much a documentary of a dictatorship than a story. Later on, when Doremus finally begins to resist, more storytelling happens, and I was able to join the author on his journey. Second thing is that though this book was published in 1935, it tells what is happening in the United States right now. Today. There are so many things that happen in the book that are supposed to be examples of over-the-top atrocities that are actual real, live current events that I have forgotten most of them. The mimickry is so ridiculously spot-on it’s like the current psychotic conservative movement is taking all its cues right out of the book. The Minute Men, for gods sake. The book burnings, the unrestrained lying for political gain. Unapologetic antisemitism. Racism. The reference to making America what it used to be again. The intelligent and hard-working honest people are ruined as quickly as the administration can find time to do it. This could have been an excellent and chilling book, but the style of the writing is not at all engaging. I’m bored out of my mind most of the time as I plod through, punctuated only with more and more moments of recognition of the dark, uncouth, fallen from grace world that I live in right now. Today.
  9. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel. The two main adult characters are a beautiful couple who fell in love at the right time and built a beautiful family and only grew more beautiful and more strong the more years they were together. Trying for a girl, they kept having more children and finally decided to stop after five boys. It could have been a blessing then, when the youngest boy began preferring dresses and dolls and insisted at a very young age that he no longer wanted to be Claude, but Poppy. The parents do a brilliant job of supporting Poppy as she grows up, and the parents are not even aware of how brilliantly Poppy’s brothers support her too. You end up wishing every family in the world could consider this family like their own. It should have been a lovely book, and I think for most of you it will be. For me, the parent of a transgender child, it hit too close to home. The catastrophes and all the tiny agonies both parents must confront and then absorb about their youngest child were excellently revealed and true to life. The author revealed the smallest difficult details that I’ll bet no one but the parent of a transgender child will even catch them all. It reminded me of the many many traumas I received – due to being raised the way I was raised – while fighting my instincts so that I could support my child instead of melt down. Reading this book was a catharsis rarely allowed me, because of course my child has more trauma and more danger in daily life than I could ever have, so my grieving and shock and confusion is inappropriate to mention most of the time. But it IS hard for some of us to be the parent of a transgender child. So very hard. I will offer only one critique of the book, and that is that at the very end, Poppy realizes she is not actually a girl, but a mix of girl and boy “None of the above,” she says. And this concept has been the absolute hardest in my journey as a parent: trying to get my head around how to know my child who is not-boy, not-girl. The book ends there, with no exploration of what that means. I feel like I could write a whole book just about that topic. How not identifying as male or female introduces a million bureaucratic complications. I ached and cried through much of this book because we do have a beautiful and supportive family just like this one, and because I was reminded of the fucking pain and beauty of living an honest and earnest life, and making parenting mistakes.
  10. A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke. Can’t have too much of a loved author and his loved main character, Dave Robicheaux. Dave is happily married for the moment, though tormented by the agony of the Lupus destroying his wife from the inside. They both remember going to school with the kids of a local family, and the dark rumors of how awful their parents were. Everyone is in their 50s now and somehow the kids have survived but there are major problems even though their evil father is finally gone. But has he resurfaced against all odds? In his role as police officer, Dave tries to make sense of the crimes in the family while learning some of the reasons behind why the kids are such a mess.
  11. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. This was a great book! I was excited to keep returning to this one almost as much as his first blockbuster. I fell absolutely in love with The Martian, when I read that one. I liked the movie too. I read his next one, Artemis, and was less than impressed. In the newest story, a new alien life form is discovered when it begins eating the sun. Yes, teensy microbes use the sun’s energy and as a result, our sun begins to slowly dim, causing catastrophe on Earth. In a desperate “hail mary” plan, the major political powers of planet Earth get together and build a spaceship they call the Hail Mary. This ship is designed to go to a star in the galaxy that is not dimming, to find out the secret of why, which might help Earth’s sun. Like The Martian, where Mark Watney spends most of the book alone and talking to himself and making dumb jokes…in this book it’s Ryland Grace alone on a spaceship. He originally had two astronaut companions, but they died enroute during their enforced comas to assist with the long journey to the star Tau Ceti. It gets very exciting when Dr. Grace finds another spaceship parked outside the star for the very same reason, and he realizes that both of them are desperate to find a way to save their own star.
  12. The Enduring Genius of Frederick Law Olmstead by Adam Rome. This was an audible freebie about a ground-breaking landscape architect. The author is clearly a huge fan, and sets out to explain all the reasons why his admiration is valid. I was impressed. Frederick Law Olmstead was a visionary and a force of innovation and invention, spreading his interests across multiple fields but always coming back to the driving need to improve society in whatever way he could. I’m so glad to have found out about this guy and now I wish he was in our history books in school.
  13. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crighton. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Crighton book before, so I did not know what his writing was like. This book was published in 1969 and is not his first novel but is the first published under Crighton’s own name. I read a book called The Andromeda Evolution by a local Cherokee writer, Daniel H. Wilson, which is a thrilling sequel to the first book (Read my review under the 2020 book list). That book had me on the edge of my seat for hours, so I was expecting the same from The Andromeda Strain, and was sorely disappointed. The original storyline, though the idea is truly clever and outstandingly intriguing, was written poorly. It is so uninteresting and plodded so slowly through events that I was yawning all the way through and bored to the point of often not having any idea what was going on because it just wasn’t interesting enough to keep me paying attention. There is intense violence which does suit the story, but it’s mentioned too casually most of the time, as an aside or a minor comment, when these moments could have been used to build fear and dread. The story builds and builds and anticipates for hundreds of pages (I mean, as much as one can anticipate while dozing), and then the final scene is pretty mild and based on a lucky deus ex machina that Crighton doesn’t even fully explain. It’s sort of like, the hero is in sight of his escape and he lunges, and the scene cuts to the end, six months later, and everything is great. So what happened? We’ll never know how he was saved and recovered. Weird. Disappointing. Thank the gods Wilson came along and saved Crighton’s book.
  14. The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson. Naturally, I had to read this one again next. It was no less exciting the second time, and this time I understood a lot of the references, like to the project Wildfire, that originated in the first book. Original review in 2020.
  15. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor. I read this again because after I read it for the first time in 2017, I failed to write a review. It continues to be a compelling compilation of short stories.
  16. The Break Up Artist by Erin Clark and Loren Lovely. No this is not one of the movies by the same name, or one of the books by the same name, this is a new one called the Break Up Artist…ha ha. I’m not sure why I picked up this book on audible, maybe because of the rave reviews. But it’s an ok romance novel. On a whim, the main character Zelda begins writing vicious break-up letters for clients that the client can then choose to send on to their partner if they want to. Zelda argues herself out of responsibility saying that the clients aren’t forced to forward the mean emails, and if they do, it’s not her fault. Things I liked: main character is a sexy young woman who uses a wheelchair and is into fashion and wants to start her own ad business with her two best friends, one is gay. A side plot is Zelda making peace with her father’s remarriage very soon after her mother’s death, and the twenty-year age difference between her father and her new stepmother is never shamed. Didn’t like: Zelda’s love interest was unrealistically perfect and he got over his last painful breakup in seconds, leading me to question how hurt he really was. Best thing about the book: it is a nice teaching moment about taking responsibility for the hard things in your life that you must face in order to really become a grown up.
  17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Another book I read in 2017 and never reviewed. In fact, there were a bunch that year and since I’m making such good progress on reading now, I’m challenging myself to re-read all of them and complete the reviews.
  18. Self Help by Ben H. Winters. A freebie offered by Audible. This is an audacious dark comedy. Well-written, but hard to get into because it was too unrealistic. When Jack steals the Oscar, and just decides to pawn it, all the warning bells went off. He had just told his name to the snooty director, and she would certainly put the cops on his trail, and in a Hollywood pawn shop, it would immediately be noticed by someone who knew who it belonged to. When Jack uses the Silent Partner app to steal, complaints would pile up and the app would be shut down or some kind of action taken. Instead, he uses it dozens of times and no one is suspicious. The rest was pretty clever and there was good material here. It was not laugh-out-loud funny as some reviewers said, because the dread and cringe factor was too great. It was hard to believe that Jack had no idea that he was a terrible criminal. But at least it kept my interest all the way through and the ending really was original and well done, though violent, and still unrealistic because Jack apparently never did face any consequences for the millions he stole or the two murders he committed.
  19. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. (free ebook on the link, if you want it) Published in 1859, this one apparently had great commercial success, published first in serial form in a magazine. That could explain why it was so. drawn. out. to the point of being boring. The great mysteries of some older novels are naturally not mysteries at all to a modern audience. For example in this one, the profound likeness of the two main women characters of Anne and Laura. Huh, I wonder what makes two people with two different mothers look so much alike? – a mystery that today’s reader figures out immediately and have to wait the entire length of the book for Walter to piece together. It is clear that Collins writes with the intent to be an ally to women – to illuminate strong female characters and highlight the wrongness of womens’ possessions passing to their husbands as soon as they marry, and of the ease at which families could pack their women off to an insane asylum if the woman became inconvenient. He includes many woman characters, which I appreciate. But the truth is that Collins was a product of his time, and the book ended up being decidedly misogynistic. He begins with a refreshing description of Marian, who is smart and capable and does not need a man, but much too soon abandons this brilliant track and makes Marian a weak, flailing female like all the rest, who falters without the sissy Walter to take charge. It was driving me crazy how the women kept fainting and taking to their beds all day long because of something like a perceived insult, or an embarrassment. Laura is kidnapped and sent to an asylum for what, a week? and spends a couple damned YEARS recovering from it as an almost total invalid. I agree that would be very traumatic, I guess I just thought her injuries were overkill. And the more pathetic she is, the more Walter loves her – gross. Though Percival lies and cheats and murders his way into getting Laura’s fortune, her closest allies don’t even care about the money (or the murders) and only want to prove to Laura’s horrid uncle that she really is alive – and somehow can’t see what the reader sees, which is that the horrid uncle will never change and isn’t worth their regard so they are wasting their time. They live in poverty and in hiding while Percival spends her money and no one cares because of… honor? Anyway, I did manage to get through it, but I do not recommend it unless this genre of 19th Century England is something you particularly like, which I do. The book is very very slow, and very long, and I found it unsatisfying.
  20. Andrea Vernon and the Superhero-Industrial Complex by Alexander C. Kane. Book two in a series of three. I read book one in 2020. Andrea is progressing in her career as an Executive Assistant at the Superhero management agency, helping her boss Ms O get more city contracts and also to recruit more superheroes. She is also battling her emotions about her superhero boyfriend The Big Axe, who has fallen hard and wants her to move in with him. Asked to go undercover and befriend a dangerous villain, the raven woman Never More, The Big Axe and Andrea quickly become good friends with Never More and her boyfriend. The two women get closer as they go through the motions of pretending they don’t know they’re using each other to pit good against evil. Like the first one, I love how the battles among superheroes and villains has been reduced to bureaucracy and whether or not someone can get the paperwork filed in time. Congress gets involved and Andrea’s annoying Senator brother stops gloating long enough to consider helping, which is a win. I read this one on audible, and Bahni Turpin is outstanding as the narrator.
  21. Self-inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler. Another one I am re-reading so that I can finish the review that I should have completed in 2017.
  22. A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. I had a hard time following and I wonder if it’s not a poor book to listen to on audio. There are many numbered lists, and I can’t keep track of what’s being listed. There is a chapter name, which sort of ties the following list together, then the chapter is broken into parts, and then each part has a numbered section. Each point in the list is its own new topic and thus there is little flow and no story at all. It’s chronological, and unless you’ve already got a good grasp of that region and its history, it is hard to keep track of the multiple actors and their motivations. Thank god I read Ataturk by Andrew Mango, and thus had a knowledge of some of the bigger historical actions concerning the Ottomans, and the main players at the beginning of their democracy. I’ve also read Ghandi and Churchill by Arthur Herman, which helped a little. Still, I eventually gave up the book at least halfway through (or more) because I was almost always lost. I’ll try it again someday.
  23. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart. Re-reading in order to finish the review for my original reading in 2017.
  24. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Gotta see what the fuss is all about. I suspected this one was going to be yet another trashy sex novel wearing the clothing of a clever marsh setting. The beginning of the novel is compelling and well written. When the expected sex scene did come, I was curious about why the author took the trouble to write it so well up to that point, and resigned myself to the novel’s quick devolvement. But no. This was a fascinating historical character development, with a coming of age perspective, a murder mystery, one of those love stories where you know from the first moment that two should be together and yet they are too young and foolish to make it happen. And yes, there is a little sex, but it’s not gratuitous and feeds the plot. If you’re here for that, you’ll get more bang (ha) for your buck in something else. It was not a pity story even though Kya is abandoned as a little girl and ridiculed and despised through young adulthoood. It’s not a boy rescues girl story. It’s not even a racist story, because the two main Black characters are written with as much value and humanity as everyone else. More actually, as they become the closest thing to parents that Kya has. The main villain – the murder victim – is written sympathetically, so that you can see that Kya was not a fool to fall for him. So I’m climbing on board: this one is highly recommended.
  25. The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion. The author’s introduction to this book explains that, in her pride of Jewish culture, she was looking for stories of powerful women. Batalion didn’t want to resign herself to thinking of Holocaust history as only defined by tragedy and weakness, in which women sat quietly in the dark while their fate was decided for them. She was mesmerized and electrified to find many many stories of Jewish women who created their own armies of resistance and made a real difference during Hitler’s atrocities. This book is not written as a story, but it is put together so well that it comes off like a story. The author lists names of women, describes them as best she can from scraps of evidence she must have painstakingly acquired, then describes their lives from 1939 to 1942 or so. Very young women ironically had more freedom than older women or men, being stereotyped as unlikely to be a threat. Particularly women who didn’t have a stereotypical “Jewish” look. These women used this flimsy cover and smuggled weapons and messages, created resistance cells, smuggled Jews to safety, organized murders and destruction of property. They voluntarily put their own lives on the line every single day for years. They stayed secret so successfully for so long that their very actions inspired hope and resistance in the greater Jewish community and inspired fear and hatred by SS soldiers. It’s a fascinating book, and hard to come away from it without being astounded and educated and impressed.
  26. Re-read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Read to perfect by Wil Wheaton. Here is my review after my first reading in 2015. It continues to be an edge-of-my-seat thriller with undisputable evil battling the best of what humans can muster, when joined with true friends in respect and love.
  27. Haben by Haben Girma. I read this book review by Kirkus and burst out laughing because yeah, this is so accurate (I have changed it for brevity, but it’s still long): “An Eritrean American Deafblind disabilities advocate tells the story of how she learned to succeed in a world made to the measure of sighted, hearing people. Haben grew up in Oakland as the daughter of Eritrean parents who fled war-torn Ethiopia. Born with exceptionally poor vision and hearing that deteriorated steadily as she aged, her Deafblind world felt neither ‘small [nor] limited’ and was instead her comfortable ‘normal.’ Though the author’s disabilities sometimes caused her to struggle in school and daily life, her positive outlook—shaped in part by parents who had struggled to build a new life in America and playmates who treated her as ‘someone with gifts to share and lessons to teach’—helped her overcome the barriers that stood in her way. As a teenager, the author consciously transcended both her limitations and the protective boundaries set by her parents by learning to salsa and participating in a school-building project in Mali. She spent part of her post–high school summer at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where she learned how to navigate with a cane and guide dog and to use a radial arm saw. In college, the author unwittingly stumbled upon her career path when she fought for, and won, the right to have the printed cafeteria menus she could not read emailed to a personal computer that translated them into digital braille.” Oh man. And yeah, that somehow is exactly it. Haben did this, Haben did that. In an environment with lots of support and love from both friends and family, she struck out on her own and learned to use a radial arm saw. She is great. Great optimism, great tenacity. I listened to this on audible and Haben actually narrates herself, which I am certain was an intentional decision. Her high-pitched voice wrecked with vocal fry was very hard for me to get used to, but I see her point. My comfort is not worth her diminishment, as that voice was shaped on purpose because her hearing was only clear at very high pitch when she was young and learning to speak. In this book I learned about Eritrean and Ethiopian history, and more ways to be sensitive to people living with disabilities. But apparently not I did not learn enough sensitivity to admire Haben as much as others. One key message in the book was missed: when humans have a loving, stable, supportive family and all their food and shelter and clothing needs are met, and each new path is explored alongside loving, supportive friends…then mountains can be moved. Imagine if all people had a tribe like hers.
  28. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve read it for the third time. This is my favourite fantasy series of all time – and lucky for me, Sanderson plans five more books. But for the review, please look at that in my list for 2017, because yes, this is another one that I read (twice!) and didn’t review.
  29. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. Continuing the series, in order to complete my reviews from 2017. (as explained in #28 above)
  30. Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson. This book is not part of the series, but is relevant to the events. It reveals an unconnected character, shedding light on some things in the main series, but is a stand-alone book. Sanderson says it fits more or less right here. Reviewed in 2020.