Let me start by saying that 2022 was one of the toughest/crappiest years of my life. I dealt with a lot that I wish I hadn’t had to. However, I am glad to say that even when times were rough, there were some excellent books out there that took me away from the stress of life and carried me into another world.
I’d also like to say that unlike other year-end wrap-ups, this is NOT about books that were published in 2022, but about books that I discovered and read during the year. So there are definitely some books on this list that have been around for a awhile, as well as some fresh stories that appeared on the shelves for the first time this year. (Each book is linked to its entry in the Verona Public Library’s catalog, which has large print, audiobook, ebook and Spanish-language versions of many titles.)
In no particular order they are:
“Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio: This young adult novel has been on the periphery of my life for a while and, 10 years after it was published, I finally managed to sit down with it. Although perhaps a bit simplistic by its conclusion, it carries a message that we should all try to adhere to. It also inspired me to write this.
“The Last Chance Library,” by Freya Sampson: Somewhat similar to a favorite from last year, “The Reading List,” this is a sweet story about fighting for what means most to you in life. In this case, a small library in an even smaller town. You just might want to check this out of your local library.
“The Christie Affair,” by Nina de Gramont: A fictionalized account of what might have happened to Agatha Christie during those days in the 1920s where she “disappeared.” This novel is so enticing; you’ll get caught up with all the fictionalized versions of real people and the other characters that fill it. It will pull you in so deeply that you might hope that this IS what happened (even though it is likely not). I’m planning on doing some extensive Agatha Christie reading (and re-reading) in 2023.
“What the Fireflies Knew,” by Kai Harris: What could a 50+ white woman have in common with an 11-year-old black girl? Nothing AND absolutely EVERYTHING. It may have been a long time since I was 11, but the emotions and feelings that this novel brought back are still raw and real. It doesn’t matter how old you, what color you are … this is a universal story that hits at the heart of growing up.
“Wish You Were Here,” by Jodi Picoult: This is Ms. Picoult’s pandemic novel and one that is much needed. I have read not all, but most, of what Jodi Picoult has written and every one I’ve read touches me in some way. This one is no different. As we wrap up (I hope) the pandemic, this story is one that needed to be written and needs to be read. Years from now I hope people will be reading this and learning or remembering what it was like.
“The Maid,” by Nita Prose: In a luxury hotel nobody sees the maid and, for socially awkward Molly, that was a good thing. Or was it? This novel is interesting as it raises the question who gets seen and who does not? What do “they” see? Why do we expect someone to react and/or see something the way we do? After reading this I’ve tried to look at people differently and hopefully judging less.
“The Unsinkable Greta James,” by Jennifer E. Smith: Set on a cruise to Alaska, this is a touching story of a family. The relationships portrayed are truer than most of us would like to admit. The feelings between father and daughter are authentic and honest. Now more than ever I’d like to take a cruise to Alaska…thank you Jennifer E. Smith.
“The Lincoln Highway,” by Amor Towles: This got a lot of buzz when it came out last year and I finally gave in. In some ways I think this title is misleading; does the book really deal with the Lincoln highway? Yes and no… Is this book frustrating at times? Yes… but maybe moreso the characters. However, this is a saga that is worth reading. (And it is a saga) Reading all the way through and taking in all the characters and as it ends you pray that Billy, Emmett and Sally get what they continue to move towards.
“The Gown,” by Jennifer Robson: This is a lovely story; a fictionalized tale of the women who worked on Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding gown. The details and the history are entrancing. For me it was a bittersweet read as I finished it on the same day that the queen died.
“Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus: There’s a reason why this novel published earlier this year is showing up on best book lists this year. Bonnie Garmus’ first novel is many things. It’s not a thriller, but its story was thrilling. It’s not a romance, but it’s a love story. It’s a fight story. It’s a women’s right’s (human rights?) story. (I got so angry so many times at what Zott had to go through, and what fueled that anger is that while this is a piece of fiction, you KNOW that the harassment, sexism and cruelty that she faced was and IS all too real) It’s about science (and chemistry scares me). It’s about religion (and I’m relatively religious). It’s about family. It’s about … so many things. This book put me through an emotional wringer and that’s okay.
“Magpie Murders,” by Anthony Horowitz: I am very late to the party. (Just found out that this has been made into a series. I watched part of an episode and was disappointed that a female character had been cast as a male. I stopped watching … maybe I’ll try again in 2023?) I loved the story within a story and how it all weaved in and out. Might have been a little character-heavy as a result, but I will let that pass and encourage mystery lovers to read this….as I try to find the next novel in what seems to be a series. (Will there be only nine? That’s an “insider” joke/question.)
“The Book of Cold Cases,” by Simone St. James: Ghost story? Mystery? Thriller? This book falls into all of these categories and more. For my money, you can’t go wrong with Simone St. James. But please read her books during the daylight hours! I don’t know if I could manage reading when there might be dark hiding places in my house.
If those dozen weren’t enough for you here I’ve include some books that I’ve plunked into specific categories that might interest you:
New Jersey Stories
“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals,” by Laurie Zaleski: This North NJ girl LOVED this memoir of a South Jersey girl. I may not be an animal lover or rescuer, but Laurie’s story and life lessons resonated strongly with me. This is a sad, yet uplifting book. I don’t think I will read it just once; that’s how much it “hit” me. It’s full of life lessons that we can learn and relearn.
“The Shore,” by Katie Runde: For me, this was the very first novel that was true to the REAL Jersey Shore. I would have loved this book more if I wasn’t experiencing my own loss and summer of sadness, but that’s not the book’s fault. My own pain made it hard to read at times, but I am so glad I did. Read it to feel the life of the shore and the truth of living with a dying loved one.
“Acts of Violet,” by Margarita Montimore: I’m putting this book in the NJ stories category even though it takes place in a town in NJ that doesn’t exist. It does capture some of the southern NJ flavor, but mostly it’s an odd novel about sisters and magic. Some may find the ending to be unsatisfactory or too fanciful, but I liked it. I liked that I could like and dislike the characters at the same time. This is definitely otherworldly fiction (not unlike “Oona Out of Order,” which was one of my best books in 2020); so suspend reality and enjoy the ride.
Thrillers of Note
“The Gwendy Trilogy: Gwendy’s Button Box / Gwendy’s Magic Feather / Gwendy’s Final Task,” by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar: These three novellas are best read together, as we start out with little girl Gwendy all the way up to an adult in outer space! Each tale stands on its own and if you are anything like me you will get so drawn in that you will not be able to stop with just one. The final story is a moving and fitting end that you will continue to think about long after you’ve finished the story.
“The Night Shift,” by Alex Finlay: An excellent thriller. I may be biased as a New Jerseyian; many of the locations mentioned resonated with me. (May not be perfect location wise, but definitely close and wasn’t totally unbelievable, which makes me think the author lived in the area at some point). Really great characters and twists and turns that should be obvious, but aren’t, so I’ll say no more.
“The House Across the Lake,” by Riley Sager: Thriller? Suspense? Crazy? This book is ALL of these and you WILL get swept up. This is a freaky work of fiction which you don’t want to put down. Not going to win any awards, but a spooky read (probably best read in the early fall by a warm fire).
Best for Reading at the Beach
“The Hotel Nantucket,” by Elin Hilderbrand: Multiple characters, including a ghost, have their lives intertwine as the once beautiful, now rundown, hotel reopens. Elin Hilderbrand, as always, draws you in and you’ll wish you could stay at the hotel along with everyone else! (Or at least experience the bar!)
“The Summer Cottage,” by Viola Shipman: Adie Lou Kruger LOVED her family’s summer home and now she’s determined to save it (from falling apart) and turn it into a bed and breakfast. She’s unconventional and makes (made?) me want to be one too.
Beth Shorten is a life-long resident of Verona. For more than eight years, she has been chronicling life here on her personal site, Bfth’s Boring Blog. You can find her previous Best Books choices here.