I read 87 books in 2022. It’s up from last year, so that’s a win.
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
Reading Themes for 2022
While my reading was up, it was still a tough year for reading. The invasion of Ukraine in February proved to be a big distraction with doom scrolling and not finding a good read.
Curious about more timely trends, I started tracking how many books I read each month. It creates an interesting curve that suggests I get a lot more reading done during the winter. We’ll see how that continues.
While I preach giving up on books you don’t like, I seem to have suffered through a lot of meh reads. That might explain some of the drop in reading. I really tried to get pickier, with mixed success.
Of course, sci-fi continued to be my go-to genre.
I’ll share more detailed stats, as well as my favorites, in another post.
The Books I Read in 2022:
- The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw – 2 stars
With cyborg mercenaries battling AIs this should have been a slam dunk. Instead it’s a mess of overly complicated writing and nothing ever being quite clear. I was tempted to give up early on and should have, but I stuck with it and it started making a little more sense but never got much better.
- Symbiosis by Nicky Drayden – 2 stars
I enjoyed Escaping Exodus, the first in this series, but this installment is a letdown. There’s a lot more political intrigue than sci-fi, and when we do get interesting sci-fi elements like mutant creatures and weird alien/human interaction, it’s barely explained. The political intrigue at least kept me reading, but the last 20 pages or so just splutters, dropping this review from three stars to two.
- Noor by Nnedi Okorafor – 3 stars
There are a lot of interesting ideas here and I love the concept of the main character, AO, but the reality is meandering and confusing.
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson – 4 stars
This is a fascinating “memoir-manifesto.” On the face of it, it’s a very straight-forward and direct memoir of a queer, Black young man growing up. There’s not a straight plot or story of tackling a major milestone, but it’s about the daily challenges of being both queer and Black. It’s engaging and encouraging. It becomes more manifesto than memoir in the way George Johnson challenges the status quo, from things like whitewashed history to masculinity. What’s most interesting is the way the book has been banned, with the book banners essentially telling on themselves. Johnson talks about how important it is for young queer, Black people to hear the truths he has to say, that these messages are squashed and minimized but still so vital for young people to hear. The very act of banning the book proves Johnson right. The book does include graphic descriptions of sex and abuse, but they’re graphic in the sense that they’re direct—here’s what physically happened. He doesn’t hide behind euphemisms. If these scenes are the purported reason why people want to ban this book, then most the YA section should be banned. I read Julie of the Wolves as a sixth grader and it includes a rape scene that’s less graphic than what Johnson describes, but infinitely more violent.
- Cog by Greg Van Eekhout – 5 stars
I’m a sucker for a robot story, and this one is a quick, fun ride with plenty of heart and humor.
- Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar – 3 stars
This is a fascinating set up that gives us dinosaurs, new tech, and steampunk technology all in one setting. It also has loads of gorgeous artwork. The story lags in a few places and could have been tighter, but overall it’s a fun adventure story.
- Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – 5 stars
I started reading Any Way the Wind Blows, the final installment of the Simon Snow trilogy, and made it a chapter and a half before I realized I needed to go back to the beginning and start over. So I re-read Carry On and loved it all over again. It shouldn’t work at all. One of the main characters doesn’t even enter the story until 150 pages in. But it works great.
- Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell – 5 stars
I re-read Wayward Son to prepare for reading the final chapter of the trilogy, and I’m glad I did. I liked it better this time. The first go around it felt a little scattered, a little light weight. I don’t think I caught the character development and growth that was there. It’s just a fun world and was fun to go through it again.
- Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell – 5 stars
This is such a wonderful and wacky series. It really shouldn’t exist at all. The fact that it’s a trilogy is mind boggling. The inside cover says it’s an ending about endings. It’s like the scouring of the Shire as an entire book. And that’s just wonderful. How do things work out for the hero? We never get to see. But this trilogy gives us so much of it, and it’s not just boring and dull, it’s magical and fun and yes, please. The trilogy really begs to be read all at once, and I’m not sure how you’d keep up with all the loose pieces that Rowell masterfully brings together.
- The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott – 4 stars
A continuation of the Star Wars High Republic era (technically book #2, but there are a lot of sub plots and companion pieces that makes this kind of hard to follow), it certainly stands up better than the initial installment, but it’s still not as good as some of those companion books that really steal the show. The installment has a tighter story and doesn’t feel as disjointed as the first, but it does still follow a hugely diverse set of characters and viewpoints that can be dizzying to keep up with. Ultimately it’s an engaging story and we get some real characters to root for.
- Run: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, L. Fury – 4 stars
A continuation of the acclaimed March series, Run picks up after Bloody Sunday and tells the complicated story of John Lewis moving from activist to politician. Much like the March series, Run doesn’t get to the meat in the first volume, but there’s still a lot of interesting things happening. First and foremost, it’s how the fight continued even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, how the movement butted up against the Vietnam War, and the internal divisions that tore the movement apart (or at least the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Also of interest is how thorough the history is. There are a couple sections in the back giving biographies of all kinds of people in (and opposed) to the movement, as well as detailed notes explaining sources and how they portrayed the story.
- Raising Ollie: How My Nonbinary Art-Nerd Kid Changed (Nearly) Everything I Know by Tom Rademacher – 4 stars
I was expecting a parenting memoir about raising a nonbinary kid, and while that’s in there, it’s maybe only 10%. It’s just as much about raising a kid with anxiety, a kid who is off the charts smart, and a kid who’s super artistic. It’s also more about being a teacher and a dad and trying to navigate the world where there’s so much racism and homophobia and sexism and denial of those things. His perspective as a teacher trying to address these concepts is especially insightful. His empathy for white boys who could easily become Proud Boys is honest and necessary. If we want to create a society free of racism, that’s something we have to wrestle with (certainly not the main thing, but as the last few years have shown us, it’s definitely a thing). Not quite what I expected, but really interesting and thought provoking.
- The Last Human by Lee Bacon – 4 stars
Another middle grade robot story, this one following a trio of robots that comes across what they think is the last human, after the robots eliminated all of humanity (oof, that’s dark for middle grade). It’s a simple story, but fun being in the mind of a robot and a bit humorous.
- Finna by Nino Cipri – 4 stars
This novella explores the horrors of working retail, specifically at an Ikea knockoff that has a problem losing customers in random wormholes. The best part of this story is that the wormhole problem isn’t the typical scifi thing our main character stumbles across and nobody knows about; the Ikea-knockoff has a standard protocol, including a weird device and groan-inducing training video. Oh yeah, it’s also all about queer heartbreak. What a great little story. Kinda wish it were longer.
- The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson – 5 stars
A wonderful story about families and our connection to the soil, about seeds and the trauma of being uprooted. It’s a story that slowly builds, told out of order with a few different perspectives that can be a little jarring at first. But the tapestry all comes together and it’s gripping and yearning. A while back I stopped in at the Birchbark Bookstore in Minneapolis and asked if there were any fiction stories about the Dakota War of 1862. There weren’t, but they pointed me to a memoir by Diane Wilson, Spirit Car, that mixed fact and fiction, reimagining her family’s experience (also a great read). The Seed Keeper is the book I longed for back then. Thrilled Wilson wrote it and I had a chance to finally read it.
- Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin – 2 stars
A poem about 2020 spread across several hundred pages of beautiful artwork. It’s an interesting concept, but the poetry just didn’t grab me and felt like a lot for a little.
- Inside Reporting: A Practical Guide to the Craft of Journalism by Tim Harrower – 4 stars
It’s not often I’ll read a textbook, but I was looking for a primer on journalism and this really did the job. The magazine style layout took a bit to get used to, but it actually made it really easy to scan and skip around to get what I needed.
- The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray – 2 stars
The main series of the High Republic era has been a disappointment so far, but I had high hopes going in. The last installment was better than the first, and with Claudia Gray at the helm of number three, things were looking up. But even her expert writing couldn’t save this mess. The only bonus is that it’s not disjointed stories like the first one. It focuses on one moment, but instead of making it thrilling it just drags along like a slow motion car crash. There are too many characters from too many far-flung tie-in stories, so we don’t care about them even when they get unceremoniously killed off. So far the stand alone, tie-in stories have been way better than this main arc. Not sure if I can keep forcing myself through these. One fun moment: We get to see Jedi fight rathtars.
- Defekt by Nino Cipri – 4 stars
This is a fun sequel of sorts to Finna, following the dedicated employee Derek through some weird misadventures where he encounters furniture coming to life, clones, and corporate grossness.
- Light Years From Home by Mike Chen – 5 stars
Read it in one day. Really love the way Mike Chen seamlessly wove family dynamics with alien abduction into such a sweet story. It’s obviously based on this sci-fi premise, but the story is really centered around a fractured family and how they come to terms with those broken pieces. It’s a wonderful story with heart, adventure, and some humor. Great read.
- Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger – 4 stars
Sometimes the Cork O’Connor mysteries feel like slapdash genre novels—predictable and repetitive. How many times is O’Connor’s family in danger? It’s been a few years since I’ve read an O’Connor book, but it kept feeling familiar. But darn if it isn’t addictive. There’s just something gripping and good about it, even if it sometimes plays too close to type. This one didn’t quite have the closure of earlier installments, which was a bit different.
- Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story by Julie Rodgers – 4 stars
This is a fascinating and at times difficult memoir about a gay woman growing up in the fundamentalist Christian church. She goes through conversion therapy and becomes a leader in the movement, all while struggling. At times it feels like she glosses over some real trauma, but ultimately it’s the story of her changing theology and finally coming to a place of acceptance with her sexuality. In many ways, it feels way too close to home. It’s a painful indictment of the church, but also offers a path forward.
- Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper – 3 stars
I remember Out of My Mind being an eye-opening book that gave insight into life with cerebral palsy. This installment is less ground-breaking, in part because Melody has a Medi-talker device that minimizes her communication challenges. It still gives a glimpse into a world I didn’t know, but it felt like less of a plot and more of just showing a string of experiences.
- Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells by Michelle Duster – 3 stars
Written by Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter, this history book zeroes in on a few specific stories and gives a broader context for Black social change from Wells’ time until today. It’s written in a magazine style with plenty of sidebars. The lack of a full accounting of Wells’ life along with some repetition and skewed perspective keep it from being what it could be.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – 4 stars
This is an interesting mix of psychological issues such as depression, addiction, and the literal brain research to understand them, mixed with belief and faith and desire. Yaa Gyasi has a wonderful writing style that just pulls you in, even though the plot is slow and plodding.
- The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez – 4 stars
Whoever expected a black lesbian vampire story in 1991? It predated much of the modern vampire obsession. It even predates the Octavia Butler vampire story, but does seem to draw inspiration from Butler’s Wild Seed. It’s a fascinating story that starts in slavery and jumps ahead 10 to 40 years at a time, spanning 200 years of American history. More than anything it seems focused on immortality, the burden of finding a place in the world that you’re always outliving. Really interesting read.
- Copper River by Willian Kent Krueger – 3 stars
As I started the Cork O’Connor series, I always wondered how this could go on for 18-some books and still be believable. Can that much really happen in a small Minnesota town? Well, here’s the answer. Move Cork out of Minnesota and have him solve crimes somewhere else. Nice solution, and good mix of new characters introduced, though ultimately the transition felt a little rough and rocky. An enjoyable story, but enough rough edges that it could have been better.
- Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Keisha N. Blain – 2 stars
I’m not sure if I can put my finger on what I didn’t like about this book. I’ve been a big fan of Fannie Lou Hamer and am always eager to read up on her, even if the books are few and far between. So I grabbed this one soon after hearing about it. It’s well researched and thorough, but it still didn’t captivate me and felt more like slog. I’m not sure if that’s the book’s fault or continued pandemic blahs that have made it hard for me to get through nonfiction. It is pretty academic, though at times the slant of opinion seems to weigh too heavily. It does try to bring in modern comparisons, though sometimes those felt like trying too hard. I don’t know why, but I found it hard to get through.
- The Changeling by Victor LaVelle – 3 stars
A bizarre and mesmerizing work. I’m not a big fan of speculative fiction and fantasy, and probably wouldn’t have kept reading if I knew what I was getting into. But the writing was just so darn captivating. This story of an eager bookseller and father-to-be just sucked me right in. By the time the it started to get weird I was committed.
- Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh – 3 stars
This long-haul space story follows a team of teen astronauts from pre-launch to mid-flight on a 23-year mission to an earth-like planet. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry, which always happens, but it’s the way everyone responds that makes this lean toward YA drama when it should be hard sci-fi. A lack of realism in the relationships and behavior really hurt what could have been a much more interesting and engaging story.
- An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – 3 stars
This started off really engaging. An interesting world and a unique voice. But the plot kind of meandered along and took to long to get where it was going. I forced myself through the last third of the book.
- Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi – 3 stars
This is an odd mix of biography and poetry, an ode to science fiction writer Octavia Butler. It’s meant for kids, so it’s short on depth and detail. I’m not that into poetry, so I really didn’t get into those sections. But it does get into some of the ways that Butler discovered herself as a writer. There’s also a fascinating connection between Ibi Zoboi and Butler.
- Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson – 3 stars
After receiving a liver transplant, Andre Cobb becomes a time traveler. That’s right, it’s a time traveling liver! Most ridiculous and potentially awesome time traveling setup I’ve ever seen. Too bad the rest of the story didn’t deliver. It’s ultimately a love story, which can work, but it just left too many fascinating possibilities unexplored.
- The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull – 3 stars
An aliens among us story that takes too long to get going and ultimately peters out. The story felt muddled and messy, until about a third of the way in when it took off and got really interesting. That’s the only thing that kept me reading. Unfortunately, it veered away from that direction for the final third and just felt like a missed opportunity.
- Midnight Horizon by Daniel Jose Older – 3 stars
This is another installment in the Star Wars: High Republic series, this time geared for the YA crowd and slotted in at the same time as The Fallen Star. It feels somewhat unimportant in the overall thread of the High Republic series. The Nihil are plotting on Corellia, though the threads take a while to uncover and it’s not exactly cutting edge. We do a get more of Yoda than I’ve seen in other High Republic stories and also a glimpse of Proxima from the Solo movie.
- May It Be So: Forty Days With the Lord’s Prayer by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson – 4 stars
Another meditation on prayer, this time focused on the Lord’s Prayer. It features short text paired with illustrations, and interspersed with reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Justin McRoberts’ other book on prayer, but it’s still interesting and engaging.
- A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow – 3 stars
Real world meets fantasy, where sirens, mermaids, and other fantastical creatures are real and frequently discriminated against. It’s an interesting YA story that explores racism in a unique way, but it’s also felt a little muddled.
- Star Wars: Visions – Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon – 4 stars
This is a most intriguing Star Wars book. It’s based on the animated short Visions: The Duel (in fact, the first 40 pages or so retell the story of the animated short, and still managed to be incredibly gripping), which is probably the best of the Visions series. But then the story continues. First of all, this is an alternate reality Star Wars world. It’s not the same universe we know and love, which allows the story to be its own thing. It explores Japanese samurai tropes with feudal lords and it’s just a different world (force zombies!?). All of that is a good thing. The story explores a conflicted Sith warrior who hunts down other Sith. But rather than the typical black and white storytelling, the Jedi are portrayed as flawed as well. It sets up a fascinating story for the first half of the book—five stars. Unfortunately, things unravel during the second half as the story embraces too much mystery and confusion. Nobody will tell us anything straight, and that’s vital as the story gets weirder and weirder. The second half left me scratching my head and envisioning what could have been—three, or even two stars. There’s a wonderful nugget of an idea here that would make an amazing Star Wars movie, and it’d be fun to see them do something so disconnected from the cannon universe.
- Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi – 5 stars
Love it. I knew I would eventually read a novel that incorporated COVID-19 into the plot, and here it is. It’s a minor thing, but it grounds this work in a time in a unique way. What I most love is how author John Scalzi describes the book as a ‘pop song’ in the acknowledgments: “”We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness.”” That’s what this is. It’s a fun, quick, enjoyable read, full of sci-fi nerdy references and some self-owns. It does what Scalzi does best, introduce an interesting new world in an engaging way and then tell a fun story in that space.
- You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo – 4 stars
This one is borderline 3/4 stars. I liked it well enough. But it felt slow. The plot kept moving along so slowly. At times it picked up and kept things going, but it felt like the action was few and far between. It also felt like a story that couldn’t decide what to focus on. There were multiple threads and not quite seemed primary, which felt problematic.
- Star Wars the High Republic: Mission to Disaster by Justina Ireland – 2 stars
The High Republic series is frustrating because it’s so uneven. I’ve read some stories by authors I like that I really enjoyed, but then others are just meh. This one, unfortunately, is pretty meh. Avon is kidnapped by the Nihil and Vernestra and Imri set off on a rescue mission, but it’s quickly sidelined and the plot just bumbles along until Avon is freed. Yawn.
- Dead Space by Kali Wallace – 5 stars
What a fun space murder mystery. It’s definitely engaging at the start, but the pace is slower. As it gets toward the end, the pace and tension ratchet up and it’s just wild. Hard to put down, but several times I had to because it was so tense. Good stuff.
- Persephone Station by Stina Leicht – 4 stars
This book is readable and fun, it sucks you right in, and the characters are interesting. But the plot felt like it was all over the place. At one point it felt like I’d skipped a chapter. A nearly 500-page story is a lot to get through, and the fun writing kept me going, but it could have used some tighter editing and a more focused plot.
- What Strange Paradize by Omar El Akkad – 4 stars
A story of refugees, this didn’t quite have the dystopian future that pulled me in from American War, but it was still a gripping and compelling story.
- Brotherhood by Mike Chen – 4 stars
If you’re looking for action, this isn’t it. It’s at least 100 pages before you really get into action. Just like the prequel movies, there’s a lot more bureaucracy than you’d expect. But there’s a lot characterization and so many references to the prequels and the Clone Wars. It does an interesting job filling in space between Attack of the Clones and the beginning of the Clone Wars series. Mike Chen really loves this era, and it comes through in his writing.
- Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu – 4 stars
It’s kind of brutal to read the last collected writings of the late Rachel Held Evans. She died in 2019 from the flu, just a year before the pandemic and the resulting insanity would give us a whole new reason to need faith. I miss Rachel’s sunny, determined outlook that would have been a balm as we watched church’s value the feeling of a maskless face over human life. All that aside, she does what she does best, diving into topics of Christian failure and expressing the frustration and self-doubt we all feel while still finding that shred of hope. Jeff Chu did a great job, and I can’t imagine having to do such a thing.
- Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones – 3 stars
This started off sounding quirky and funny, with mannequins killing people like that episode of Doctor Who. But then there’s a weird twist where it gets dark and just keeps getting weird. The voice is really unique and sucked me in, and I still kept reading. He’ll be an author to come back to.
- The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham – 4 stars
A far future space war, with a lot of fun tech and whiz bang. John Birmingham weaves together a lot of disparate threads, and it comes together in a fun and satisfying way. Good stuff. Looking forward to the next installment.
- Emily Eternal by M. G. Wheaton – 4 stars
A fun exploration of AI and the world coming to an end. It started off a little slow, but once it got going it really hooked me. Interesting take on AI and definitely a more feminine approach.
- The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett – 3 stars
I put this book on my ‘to read’ list 10 years ago. Took a while to find it (I think a 2021 reprinting helped), but I finally did. It’s one of the first nuclear post-apocalyptic stories. It’s fascinating how little it focuses on the technology and more the sociology, the way people eschewed technology and embraced fanatic religion. It’s an interesting read, but doesn’t quite live up to all the hype.
- Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson – 3 stars
With Jacqueline Woodson’s typical poetry, she explores the impact of NFL concussion trauma on a family. It’s engaging and full of depth, though not exactly what I was looking for.
- The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison – 3 stars
Interesting setup exploring an abandoned space cruise liner. It moves quickly, but by the end it felt like it moved too quickly and missed some opportunities.
- Afterwar by Lilith Saintcrow – 4 stars
This is a near-future story about the end of a second Civil War in the United States and the aftermath. It’s heavily influenced by the rise of Trump and the extreme right wing. There’s a lot of criticism that the author went too far, though sitting here in 2022 after January 6 and overturning Roe, it feels about right. The bigger issues are some of the story problems. The beginning is hard to get into, hard to reconcile all the new terminology and the abbreviations for the new terminology that come with little explanation. It also felt like it dragged on—at nearly 400 pages, it could have been a third shorter. It also felt like the voice wasn’t entirely consistent. Several times a chapter would end or start with a really snarky commentary on what was happening, but it wasn’t a consistent thread.
- United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good by Cory Booker – 4 stars
A really impressive political autobiography, if only because it shows Cory Booker’s character. And the guy is humble. That’s maybe a weird thing to say about a guy who writes a book about himself, but for a politician, I was surprised how many times he admitted his own mistakes and gave credit for his wins to other people. He was very upfront about his shortcomings and failures, and that was refreshing. He has a real passion for finding solutions, and that was also refreshing.
- The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha – 3 stars
We get a little more librarian in this installment of the Mercenary Librarians series, but not too much. It’s still just weird super soldiers falling for each other. And then scanning books to prop up civilization between significant glances. Very long build up on this, really short section of compelling action.
- Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – 4 stars
Fun to go back to this book and devour it in a couple days (vs. nearly a month for my last book). I like the concept and the set up here, though it’s easy to see how it’s just missing a more compelling plot. I think of it as a 5-star book, but 4 is about right.
- Shadow of the Sith by Adam Christopher – 4 stars
This fills in the gaps of Rise of Skywalker, explaining Ochi’s search for Rey and her parents and Luke and Lando’s hunt for Ochi. Since it’s really just fleshing out some backstory, it’s not that compelling on its own. But it also pulled me in with the various connections to the saga and, let’s face it, just seeing Luke wielding a lightsaber again.
- The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix – 4 stars
An interesting spin on the vampire story and a bit of a dive into 80s/90s housewives.
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – 4 stars
Everybody pitched this as a space opera, but I usually think of those as adventures and this didn’t quite have that feel. It’s more of a character story and they happen to be on a space ship. Perhaps the biggest reason it’s not quite a space opera is the plot isn’t any kind of adventure. It took a while to figure out what it was all about, and by the time I did it was kind of underwhelming. That’s because it’s more about the characters. But that’s all really semantics (who cares if it’s a space opera or not?), it was a fun little space story with engaging characters and interesting worlds. I’ll have to keep reading the series.
- Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown – 3 stars
It’s kind of dystopian mess of a future with a Trump-like fascist coming to power in America and everything fragmenting. The story is kind of hard to follow and not as engaging as you’d like. I kept with it, but barely.
- Padawan by Kiersten White – 3 stars
You thought Anakin was a whiny teenager? Hold my blue milk, Obiwan said, stepping up with the worst and most useless teen drama ever. While the internal spiraling is way too overdone, the story does eventually get interesting. Bonus points for connecting to the High Republic series.
- All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – 4 stars
I almost didn’t finish this book and nearly gave up several times. But it kept coming around. It would go in fits and starts: get really weird and confusing and I’d want to give up, then skip ahead and get interesting and I’d keep going, then get sidetracked and weird again and I’d want to give up, then explain something really interesting and I’d be hooked again, then do something in explicable again. The only reason it gets 4 stars instead of 3 is because the last quarter felt more enjoyable.
- Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin – 5 stars
It’s so wonderful to read a book knowing that it’s good, knowing you can trust the author to pull it off. It’s just enjoyable. This is the story of two gamers who go on to create games. It has wonderful insights on work and the process of building a company and what it’s like to create games. But it’s more about relationships. It’s about human interactions and how we mess things up, but we can always get a redo.
- Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott – 3 stars
Anne Lamott’s pithy little essay collections wrapped into a book started out as refreshing and surprising and wonderful. And there’s still plenty of that. But they also blur together. I couldn’t tell you the difference between any of them, just that they all capture Lamott’s crunchy spirituality, her self-effacing style, and her witty if repeated insights.
- A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – 4 stars
An interesting sequel, though heads up, it doesn’t follow the characters you think it will. Ultimately the dueling stories really sucked me in, but it took a little while to get fully engaged.
- Missionaries by Phil Klay – 3 stars
The story felt like it dragged and never really hooked me. Too many interconnected stories and threads to keep straight. The comparison between known but ignored battlefields like Iraq and Afghanistan with the completely forgotten Colombia was interesting, but not enough to hang the story on. For a story about how America is sticking its fingers everywhere, it felt like an awfully American-centric perspective.
- Vic and Blood by Harlan Ellison – 3 stars
I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories, so this one was recommended to me as a classic of the genre. But oof. It’s really kind of messed up. It’s like a rape fantasy. Weird and disturbing.
- Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott – 5 stars
This is one of those Star Wars stories that works really well because it fills in the gaps in existing material in such a surprising and interesting ways. I never thought Dooku was that compelling of a character, but the recent Jedi Tales shed more light on his past, and this book really delves into his fall from the Jedi, which is just compelling storytelling. It’s a framed story, told from the perspective of Asajj Ventress and she discovers Dooku’s past. 5 stars might be a bit generous as this really doesn’t stand alone without knowledge of the rest of the Clone Wars and Star Wars movies, but I enjoyed it.
- Friday by Robert Heinlein – 2 stars
Heinlein’s work is showing its age. The free love, sex pot action hero feels like the author writing his own fantasy into existence, and it feels a little gross. Aside from the sexism, the plot is awfully muddled and switches back and forth between fun scenes of real action and movement, and plodding, dull, philosophizing. There are maybe three different stories wrapped up into this book, and it’s as if Heinlein just sort of lazily sewed them together. Each on their own is a lot better and he could have done a lot more to pull them together and tighten those threads.
- Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman – 4 stars
Maybe half this book is worth four stars, and the other is two or three. But it’s Ron Swanson, so I guess I’m giving him a pass. It’s just delightful to hear Nick Offerman tell his own story in his own words. He very much speaks like his signature character Swanson and uses a lot of interesting words and phrases. He also giggles! Best part of the audiobook right there. You get a lot of sermonizing about the value of hard work, the creative process, the church, sex, etc. Some of that is really good, and some of that gets a little self centered (just because you view the world through a creative lens, doesn’t mean we all do). Taken in the right quantities, it’s pretty good. The part where the book breaks down is where he starts telling us the timeline of his acting career. This veers away from interesting and engaging and just becomes a boring tedium of meeting the right person and getting the right break. Meh.
- The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman – 1 star
It’s billed as the epic story behind Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally’s love and marriage, but it’s just meh. There’s nothing epic or sweepingly romantic about how they met or fell in love or got married or anything. Are people that desperate for a Hollywood couple that actually stay together and don’t have drama? Because if you’re looking for drama, it’s not here. Most of the book even veers away from their relationship and just talks about mundane things, what they like and don’t like, how they have dogs, how they grew up, how they got their respective breaks, etc. It’s the same ground covered in Offerman’s memoir, and worse still, it’s not well written or edited—they just sat down with a recorder and started talking. I thought that was just the style of the audiobook, so I picked up a print copy and saw it was just a transcription of the audio. I’m not sure how I finished it—I guess Offerman is just enough of a unique voice that I muddled through.
- Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng – 4 stars
This was a hard book to read. It’s set in a near-future, quasi-authoritarian state where an economic crisis prompts anti-Chinese legislation. It creates a world of acute racism where children are removed from homes. We follow a boy whose mother left him because of her involvement in a resistance, but the details of her part and the broader crisis as a whole are slowly revealed. It’s a difficult read because with all the book bannings and refusal to accept the racism in our history, this future world doesn’t feel like a sci-fi fantasy. It feels all too close.
- Brood by Jackie Polzin – 5 stars
Re-reading this and it’s just so wonderfully wry and detached. Feels kind of Minnesotan as well, in the way the real challenges are never addressed head-on, we just kind of dance around them while talking about the chickens.
- Deathlands: Pilgrimage to Hell by Jack Adrian – 3 stars
Some ridiculous post-apocalyptic fun, an unthinking romp through the wastelands full of guns, gore, and girls. It was a good, throwaway paperback read, definitely pulled me in to kind of a rambling story. It ends in kind of a goofy way too, though it will be tempting to read more of the series.
- To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers – 4 stars
A short novella about human exploration of exo-planets. The sci-fi is fascinating, though in typical Becky Chambers style, the plot isn’t exactly pounding. Things move along, and I appreciate her ability to skip ahead, but there’s not a complex, intricate plot. It unfolds slowly and it’s uncomplicated. But it’s a good read.
- Dovetails in Tall Grass by Samantha Specks – 4 stars
I’m always shocked by how few literary accounts of the U.S./Dakota War there are. There are some dry historical accounts, but not a lot that creatively captures the depth of this conflict. Which makes Dove Tails in Tall Grass a singularly unique novel (Spirit Car by Diane Wilson is the only other example I know of, though it mixes fictional accounts with memoir). The story is told from the perspective of two teenage women, one white and one Dakota. As such, it can get a little dramatic at times and feels a little overwrought (hence four instead of five stars). But it does accurately capture the depth and injustice of the conflict, including broken treaties, civilian massacres, and racist settlers. Perhaps its greatest strength is in capturing the cultural loss the Dakota faced as they moved to a reservation. It’s unclear how well a white author is depicting that, and I’d love to see it from a Dakota viewpoint, but at this point it’s all we have and I think it’s an admirable job.
- Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono – 4 stars
This is definitely not a boring celebrity memoir where they walk you through their life in excruciating detail. Bono’s poetry and lyricism comes through in a way that must make the audio book remarkable. But as happens with major celebrities, it could have used a firm editing. It’s well over 500 pages and at times seems to be dwelling on excruciating detail. But there are other times when the insights and poetry really shine.
- A Winter’s Love by Madeleine L’Engle – 3 stars
I haven’t read Madeleine L’Engle in a while, so digging into her deep backlist is always fun. This is one of her adult novels from before the Wrinkle in Time era. It focuses on a woman on a holiday in France with her family as she struggles with the temptation to cheat on her husband. It’s written in the 1950s, so it seems a little slow and a bit of a throwback culture-wise, but L’Engle still manages to draw interesting characters and dilemmas, even if the drama is pretty scaled back (maybe it sounds salacious, but it’s exceedingly chaste).
- Trees by Percival Everett – 4 stars
Percival Everett’s books are always deep-thinking head scratchers. They’re also incredibly readable—they keep pulling me in and are hard to put down. That’s the case here. I’m not so sure about the end, which feels like it doesn’t really come to a satisfying or even logical conclusion, but that’s kind of what you get with this kind of magical realism. It’s a deep dive into lynching and vengeance and justice, and there just is no good conclusion to that, at least in this world.
- Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead – 4 stars
It’s kind of a caper story spread out over multiple years. It’s probably not my usual read, but Colson Whitehead has a way of making things so readable. It just hooked me.
- A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga – 4 stars
I’m a sucker for a robot story, and this is a fun one of a child-like rover named Resilience being prepared and then exploring Mars. There’s more humanity than you might expect for a story about robots.
- Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey – 3 stars
I’ve enjoyed Sarah Gailey’s writing, so I didn’t care much that horror isn’t normally my genre. Probably should have. While the story kept me hooked and I finished it pretty quickly, it wasn’t my favorite.
- Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell – 5 stars
I normally don’t like short story collections, but Rainbow Rowell’s writing and characters are just so delightful. Most surprising is that a couple of the stories featured characters from her novels, telling stories that take place years and even decades later. That was fun. “”Winter Songs for Summer”” and “”If Fates Allow”” were probably my favorites. Not only did “”If Fates Allow”” feature a character from Fangirl, but it’s also a rare pandemic story. I was just reading about how creators often shy away from depicting the pandemic, and this one embrace it in such a reassuring way. Good stuff.
- Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill – 3 stars
I started listening to the audio book while I was working on something and got about a third of the way through. Not sure I would have made it that far if I wasn’t working on something else. I only came back to it because a physical copy came across my desk, and at that point it felt like I was close to the end (though not really), so I finished it quickly. It’s a fun take on the princess/fairly tale story, but it’s not my usual read.
- I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
With the author of Heartstopper I kind of expected to get more of a love story, but it’s more a story of friendships and finding meaning.
- Mister Miracle: The Great Escape by Varian Johnson and Daniel Isles – 3 stars
A really cocky kid trying to escape some kind of dystopian academy. Seems like this is a DC property with a lot of backstory I know nothing about, so feels like I’m missing out on a few details and connections.
- Fangirl 2: The Manga by Sam Maggs, Rainbow Rowell, and Gabi Nam – 4 stars
These Fangirl adaptations are excruciatingly short. I read them in one sitting, just get into the groove, and it’s over. It’d be more fulfilling to wait until the entire series is out and read it at once. It’s a great distillation of Fangirl, capturing the right beats and emotion, in a quick and breezy graphic style.
Again, if you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.