Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Three

Another day, another handful of top 5 books. What a wonderful thing!
These three booksellers off up a wide variety of great reads.

Tim McCarthy is one of our more prolific book recommenders. With more than 100 recs on his staff rec page, you know that he's drawing up his top 5 from a long list of great books. Here are his faves this year.

#1 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel. Tim writes: "I'm trying to understand why Mandel's writing casts a spell on me. I don’t have a complete answer, but I’ve decided on this: her style is steady and beautiful, she’s smart without sounding pretentious, and her characters feel true. There's a flesh and blood intimacy about them that makes me feel safe in their world, even as we’re brought to the edge of catastrophe. When tragedy comes, I want to face it with these fictional people. This novel builds on The Glass Hotel (which I loved!) and Station Eleven (which I now must read!). It brings the past and future together as if connections across time are waiting to be discovered. It throws our reality into doubt by questioning how we came to be, and it shows us that technology will never hide our humanity. I’ll forgo the summary and just say that Mandel has created a dazzling story with humble simplicity, then tied it tight with a perfect ending."

#2 Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss. Tim writes: "Swedish King Gustav V apparently told Jim Thorpe, as he handed him a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, that he was “the most wonderful athlete in the world.” Thorpe was certainly admired and sought after worldwide for his unmatched athleticism and talent. Everyone wanted to see him, wherever he went. He was on World Series teams, he was there at the inception of the NFL, and later he had many small Hollywood film roles, befriending the biggest stars of the day. Thorpe was often used as a novelty as well, a drawing card constantly subject to racial stereotypes, and as time passed he became more actively involved with indigenous people’s rights. As a man, Jim Thorpe had serious human flaws and struggled constantly to succeed, but he was personally kind and generous, offering a huge smile to all. He never seemed inclined to pity himself or stop chasing his dreams. The extraordinary details of his life, including many connections to Wisconsin and Milwaukee, are endlessly fascinating, and Maraniss makes them exceptionally smooth reading. He wraps Thorpe's life into the story of America, and he’s blunt about our cruel contradictions in such an intelligent way that my progressive anger feels completely validated. This is a top-flight history lesson that separates the truth from the myth of a legendary and iconic American!"

#3 The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais. Tim's write-up: "Oh, man! By that I mean oh, how does a man review a book like this!? Let's start (and end) with the fact that I loved every minute. I loved the characters, and the plot twists, and the very verbal crow. Most of all, I loved the sense that Marais was having as much fun writing as I was reading about a sisterhood of glorious old witches with a long history in a town that’s been mostly ok with them, until something changes. Now their manor and their popular distillery are being attacked by a mob of irrational townsmen (go figure), and reliving their own tragic past could offer them either salvation or destruction. They’re not sure which. Enter the Mayor’s spiky-haired teenage daughter and her dog named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you’ve got the setup for a lovely riot. So take a break from our very strange real world and pour yourself into this spellbound concoction of laughter and full-blown feminist power, mixed with suspense and dashes of potent wisdom likely to fly into my thoughts forevermore."

#4 Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice a graphic novel by Tommie Smith, with Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile. Tim says: "I was eight years old in October of 1968 as I watched Tommie Smith and John Carlos receive their Summer Olympic medals with raised, black-gloved fists. I didn't notice they were also shoeless and wearing black socks to represent poverty, or see the beads and scarf representing lynchings. I admit that the moment scared and confused me. This suburban white kid didn't understand how a great victory would make these men look so sad. It was perhaps the first time I really wondered what was wrong with America, and it remains one of my life’s strongest visual memories. Now I've been given a chance to learn Tommie Smith's life story directly from him. He was also young when he started wondering what was wrong, why his large, loving, hard-working, faithful family of Texas sharecroppers had so much less than whites, despite tireless, honest effort. The story of his path from childhood to the moment they took a stand for human rights and a better nation is inspiration from an American hero, for which I’m deeply grateful. With exquisite illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile, this graphic novel answers questions that began in my eight-year-old thoughts fifty-four years ago. Now that’s extraordinary!"

#5 The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill is a middle grade novel of which Tim writes: "It’s an elaborate story, woven in great detail with dragons and ogres and loving orphans, animals who converse with people, heroes alongside a treacherous villain, and a town which, once very lovely, has fallen apart. The demise of Stone-in-the-Glen began with a fire that destroyed perhaps the most beautiful library imaginable. Everything started to crumble from there, including the will of most citizens to support and believe in one another. They do have a polished and beloved Mayor, a world renowned dragon slayer, who tells them he can fix it all, while also telling them to suspect everyone else. Most of the townspeople have become reclusive and have no desire to understand the remarkable Ogress nearby, but the struggling orphans and the Ogress will meet. Perhaps there is magic in the world, and there certainly is magic in Barnhill’s beautiful words and her thoughtful perceptions of life."

And now on to Parker Jensen! They've got recommendations that take you all over the literary map.

#1 A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland (you'll see this one again in this blog, and soon!). Parker has left us without a write-up for this one, but here's a bit more about the book. The Goblin Emperor meets "Magnificent Century" when a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire. From the starred PW review: "Rowland delivers a breathtakingly intimate narrative in this gorgeous fantasy, in which the political intrigue of a kingdom serves as backdrop to a romance between the softest of hearts... In exploring what monarchs owe their people, and what individuals owe each other, this achingly tender fantasy wows."

#2 Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samathan Allen. This was also one of NPR's best books of the year. When the final four women in competition for an aloof, somewhat sleazy bachelor's heart arrive on a mysterious island in the Pacific Northwest, they prepare themselves for another week of extreme sleep deprivation, invasive interviews, and, of course, the salacious drama eager viewers nationwide tune in to devour. Enter Patricia, a temperamental and woefully misunderstood local living alone in the dark, verdant woods, and desperate for connection. Through twists as unexpected as they are wildly entertaining, the self-absorbed cast and jaded crew each make her acquaintance atop the island's tallest and most desolate peak, finding themselves at the center of an action-packed thriller that is far from scripted. 

#3 Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh, her follow-up to Death in Her Hands. This review in The Atlantic pretty much sums it up: "Lapvona flips all the conventions of familial and parental relations, putting hatred where love should be or a negotiation where grief should be... Through a mix of witchery, deception, murder, abuse, grand delusion, ludicrous conversations, and cringeworthy moments of bodily disgust, Moshfegh creates a world that you definitely don’t want to live in, but from which you can’t look away."

#4 Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake. Parker writes: "Delilah Green wants nothing to do with Bright Falls, the town she grew up in. She doesn't care for the small-town people, the businesses that close at 6pm sharp, and she certainly is not interested in seeing her step mother. Or her recently engaged step sister, Astrid, for that matter. But after finding herself short on cash, she finds it impossible to say no to a good paying job doing the photography at Astrid's wedding - plus her Dad would have wanted her to go. All Claire wants in her life is a little extra stability, as she has been dealing with an unreliable ex, the father of her daughter, for years, while managing the bookstore she has taken over for her mother. So, the last thing she needs is unpredictable Delilah Green strutting into her life with her beautifully tattooed arms, tight black jeans, and gorgeous unruly hair. Not to mention, she has never been there for her best friend Astrid! But, as Claire and Delilah begin to know each other during the wedding events, the sparks are undeniable, and maybe neither of them are who the other thinks. Ashley Herring Blake delivers a rom-com full of life about the meaning of forgiveness, women's friendships, and how to let go of the past (not to mention grin worthy flirtatious banter!). I fell head over heels for this book, all of the characters were loveable and the story was the kind of multilayered romance I love. Delilah Green Doesn't Care is a heartfelt queer romance perfect for fans of Casey McQuistion."

#5 The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead. Parker writes: "Shay Evans is tormented by her past, one in which she and her best friend, Laurel, escaped from a dangerous man. But Shay has built a life all these years later, one she is almost content with, and one that will all crumble before her with one piece of news. Laurel is dead. Her favorite true crime podcast breaks the news, and Shay finds herself thrust back into a world she feared she'd never be able to outrun. Was Laurel's death truly a suicide as the police claim or the proof that a dangerous man and his colleagues are back and more powerful than ever? To find out, Shay must team up with the host of the podcast that sent her spiraling and slip into a world of cults, abuse, and twisted ideology that will push her to her breaking point. Last year's In My Dreams I Hold A Knife was the juiciest and most exciting thriller I'd read in years, and now Ashley Winstead is back with the darkest and most heart-wrenching thriller I've read yet. The Last Housewife pulls no punches so be warned that it's a tough read that will leave you breathless, but it is worth every moment. I inhaled this book in a matter of hours, frantically turning the pages as Shay found herself in increasing danger and all her darkest secrets were thrust into the light. This story unpacks the truths about the traumas women face in contemporary America, from sexism to abuse to the ways in which the world forces ownership of their bodies. I can't recommend this one enough (but do make sure to check the content warning in the start of the book!). All the stars. All the awards. All the praise. Ahsley Winstead has proven herself to be one of the greatest thriller writers of the time."

Kathy Herbst has a nifty collection of books to offer up this year!

#1 When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill, making her second appearance in this very blog post! This is her first novel for adults. Kathy writes: "It's the 1950s and a mass dragooning takes place. Women shed their human selves and turn into dragons, a reality that is denied by the powers that be. Alex is 8 when her aunt transforms, leaving her daughter, Beatrice, to be cared for by Alex's mother. Forbidden to speak of her aunt or dragons, Alex struggles to find her place in a world that denies her incredible mathematical skills. When Beatrice's fascination with dragons becomes evident, Alex fears losing the person she is closest to. A heartfelt book of women finding their strength in a world that denies their intelligence and abilities."

#2 Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. This book makes its second appearance in the top 5 blogs. This instant NYTimes bestseller was a Read with Jenna book club pick and was named a best book of summer by Chicago Tribune, The View, Southern Living, and USA Today. From Washington Post: "an ultimately feel-good but deceptively sensitive debut... Memorable and tender." And from Elle: "Infused with heartfelt humor, Van Pelt’s elegant portrait of a widowed woman who finds understanding and connection with a clever octopus is refreshingly, if surprisingly, relatable. Despite the unorthodox relationship at its core, the debut novel offers a wholly original meditation on grief and the bonds that keep us afloat."

# 3 The Last Confessions of Sylvia P by Lee Kravetz. This novel bridges fact and fiction to imagine the life of a revered writer. Kathy writes: "Kravetz’s book is a beautifully written novel blending fact and fiction, past and present, to create a story at the heart of which is Plath's novel, The Bell Jar. Told through the distinct voices of three fictional characters, Kravetz draws us into Plath's life - her lifelong battle with depression, her overwhelming need to express herself through words, and her struggle to be taken seriously as a poet and writer."

#4 Gallant by VE Schwab Kathy writes: "Another gripping, can't-put-it-down novel by Schwab; a story of parallel worlds, haunted houses, ghouls, and ominous family secrets. Tenacious 16-year-old Olivia, who is mute, longs for a home and family but has only her mother's journal. When she is invited by her uncle to return to the family home, she finds family is not as simple a concept as she thought and ultimately must decide where she belongs. And if the writing isn't compelling enough, the amazing illustrations will surely draw you in."

#5  The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris. The Queen's Gambit meets The Alice Network in this epic, action-packed novel of family, loss, and one woman's journey to save all she holds dear. It's a sweeping World War II tale of an illusionist whose recruitment by British intelligence sets her on a perilous, heartrending path. Inspired by stunning true accounts,  a gripping story of love and loss, the wars we fight, on the battlefields and within ourselves, and the courage found in unexpected places.

That's it for this post! More top 5's on the way tomorrow, so keep reading, dear readers.

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