Despite 2022 being a bit of a tough year for me, it had its highlights too. The high for me was publishing my memoir – Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others, and having my father read the book. The lows – there were a few, including two deaths. My ex-husband and father of my two children died suddenly of a massive heart attack in June. And for a good part of the year, my father was battling congestive heart disease and was in and out of the hospital, having stent procedures and mitral valve clips inserted…He spent most of December in the hospital and was released into home hospice six days before passing away peacefully on Jan. 2, 2023. It was not a great way to end or start a year.
Throughout last year, I was able to rely on books to help take my mind off my troubles and escape into some other world and someone else’s life. A few years ago, I decided to turn off the TV and read and listen to books more. Since then, I have increased my reading goals, expanded my interests in topics and genres, and achieved my reading goals. I read an increasing number of physical books, eighteen books last year which made up 24% of the total number of books I read. Have really enjoyed my physical book selections which many were suggested by my Literati Book Club which sadly is no longer operating and my Book of the Month Club membership. Both clubs have introduced me to wonderful author and stories. Many of the books I read were based off recommendations from friends and family, including my Dad. I read The Rose Code because I saw that he was reading it. I’ll miss being able to talk about books with Dad.
I also read faster than I used to, proving that my English teachers were correct and that my reading would improve with practice. Too bad it took me so long to listen to them. Better late than never; you are never too old to start something new. I love curling up on the couch with the dogs, bookending me as I lose myself in a book. I’ve also started to read more on my Kindle again this year.
I love statistics – I think it may be a family thing. This is one of the reasons I love using the Goodreads website and joining their annual Reading Challenge since they tell you how many pages you read and all sorts of stats about the books you read during the year. For instance, I surpassed my goal of 57 books by reading 75 books – 129% of my goal! The shortest book was Lying at 47 pages, and the longest was The Rose Code at 624 pages. You can visit my author profile by following this link.
When I started on the Goodreads website a few years ago, I would rate a book simply by assigning a star rating. But I realized as I aged and read more and more that I would sometimes forget why I liked or disliked a particular book. So, I decided to start writing book reviews as a writing exercise and a memory one.
My 2022 Five Star list (in the order read during the year)
I realized that I have never explained my criteria for rating books, so I have separated my Rating Criteria into a post describing how I arrive at my star rating, which I include in my Goodreads and Amazon reviews of books and audiobooks.
Overall, I read a bunch of books which I really enjoyed. Learned about some authors that I was unfamiliar with, became a big fan and look forward to read more from them. Our lives are inundated with reading this, that and the other thing in quick snippets everyday thanks to the internet and social media. attention spans are shortening. Which is why disconnecting from all that noise and diving into a book feels so good.
What a month October turned out to be! Thanks to my book club suggestions, I listened to some great books and read some absolutely fantastic ones. I even started reading on my Kindle once again, which Mark is thankful for since we can turn the light off at bedtime earlier. I started the month off with a thriller – I love reading thrillers and suspense in October, which is why six of the nine books this month are either mystery or thriller/suspense. I also enjoy reading short stories for so many reasons; they can be a great change of pace when reading a lot of novels and a great way to discover authors with whom you aren’t familiar with their works. I was excited to read The Golden Couple since I enjoyed Hendricks & Pekkanen’s thriller, The Wife Between Us. This month included selections from my favorites like Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, and Neil Gaiman. How can I not read these guys this month?!
What made this month particularly enjoyable was being introduced to the works of two wonderful Nigerian authors, Oyinkan Braithwaite and Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. Mid-month, I took a detour to Greece for a nice break from the thrillers with a lovely book about friendship. I couldn’t resist turning back to the mysteries as the month rolled on and decided to check out the much-talked-about Daisy Darker. Finally, I broke out my Kindle earlier this month and dove into a book by Rob Walker, a Literati club suggestion from a while back suggested in Austen Kleon’s Read Like An Artist Club.
It was a great month of reading, as most of my picks were real winners, with only one book being disappointing. Considering that I was also trying to focus on promoting my book Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others – A Memoir was released at the beginning of the month, I was astonished at how much I read and reviewed. The more I read, the better I write, and I was happy to hear Lee Child reiterate such a sentiment in the BBC MaestroClass I am taking of his. I hope reading these reviews helps others find a new book of interest, perhaps one they would never have thought to pick up if they hadn’t seen a reader’s recommendation.
How well do we know the people we love? This is one of the compelling themes running throughout The Golden Couple. I read this book because I enjoyed Greer Hendrick’s and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us so much. Unfortunately, The Golden Couple lacked the suspense I expected in a psychological thriller. The story is told from a multi-point of view by Avery, an unconventional therapist who uses tactics more akin to a private detective, and Marisa, the unfaithful wife, and client. I found the characters shallow and somewhat annoying. The book is riddled with simple storylines and characters with the intent to confuse; however, I was able to reach my conclusion mid-way through, hoping that there would be a twist ahead I didn’t see coming. But that didn’t happen, and what did happen I found predictable. For me, The Golden Couple was all glitz and little substance. Narration by Karissa Vacker and Marin Ireland 11 hours 3 minutes
Sisters have a bond like no other. Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer is a dark and twisted tale of sisters, Korede, a nurse, and her younger and more attractive, charismatic sister, Ayoola. Their bond is so strong that they rely on each for everything and will do anything for the other. From the beginning, I was riveted by this story, filled with suspense and humor. This powerful novella packs a punch and is a testimony of Braithwaite’s storytelling to deliver such poignant prose in so few pages. Bravo, and thanks for all the cleaning tips! The audiobook I listened to has excellent narration by Adepero Oduye, who brought the characters to life. 4 hours 15 minutes
Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions was my November Literati selection, a pick by Roxanne Gay’s Audacious Book Club. A great choice, too. The debut novel by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi follows the lives of four childhood friends: Nonso, Remi, Aisha, and Solape. It’s a powerful and moving story with a unique structure; each chapter is a short story that drives the narrative from 1897 to 2050. Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Poland, and the United States provide different settings for the stories as the girls’ lives lead them in different directions. Ogunyemi’s use of language and her descriptions of food, clothing, and traditions weave into an intricate and illustrative tapestry that leaves you with a lasting impression. I will miss spending time with these complex women. Bravo!
Listening to The Illegal Gardener by Sara Alexi was like a quick trip to Greece. I loved listening to how the village celebrated Easter; as a Greek Orthodox American, it brings up fond memories of my family’s celebrations. I just wished that Sara Alexi had included more of the native language. Suzanne Heathcote does an excellent job with the various accents and male and female voices. The story has a certain lightness, despite including childhood trauma, grief, prejudice, immigration, and racism themes. However, it’s also a story about perseverance and independence. A great beach read or listen about two people better off having met one another. I am looking forward to reading more of the series.
October is a time to embrace all things macabre and spooky, so I queued up Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, excited to hear a good ghost story. What I got was so much more. Gaiman is a master storyteller spinning a yarn taking his audience on a captivating journey of unseen twists and turns with sinister undercurrents. At its core, a heart-warming tale about family, albeit unconventional, and about a boy who learns life lessons from the most unlikely sources. A touching narrative about death, living life, and letting go—a delightful story for readers and listeners of all ages, with plenty of layers to devour. I listened to the Full-Cast Production, which added some music between chapters, which I don’t usually like, but I felt it was appropriate in this production. Listening time: 8 hours 24 minutes
October and Edgar Allan Poe go together better than anything pumpkin spiced could add to your fall. This collection is quick and packed full of horrors – a great way to spend a little over an hour. The narrator, Earl Hammond, is excellent. However, I would detract half a star, for the audio quality faltered in the last story.
I was immediately intrigued upon opening Alice Feeney’s Daisy Darker. A map sets the stage and brings to mind the game of Clue. Next, there is a tantalizing note from the Author’s Agent, which is just the first step down into this mysterious rabbit hole, and chapter one hasn’t begun. Fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy this book, as it is very much an homage to her book And Then There Were None. This is the first book I have read of Alice Feeney’s, and I look forward to reading more. Daisy Darker is a clever and sinister story that will keep the reader guessing. 4.5 stars
I enjoyed reading Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing. It’s a great source to help people become more in tune with the everyday things around us. I have spent the last few years actively trying to live a more mindful life and was happy to discover that I was already doing some of the recommended exercises and now have some new things to try. It’s a quick read and has some valuable suggestions on becoming more mindful and creative. 3.5 stars
One of my goals is to read or listen to everything Ray Bradbury has written, so I decided what better time than to listen to The October Country to celebrate the season. Although, this collection isn’t warm and fuzzy fall fodder to curl up in front of the fireplace with a hot cider. Bradbury wrote most of these short stories in the 1940s & 50s, post-war era, which were initially published in magazines and periodicals as diverse as Weird Tales, Beyond Fantasy,, and Mademoiselle and Harper’s . However, this dark and haunting collection of short stories is timeless, as are the themes of self-doubt, loneliness, and death Bradbury explores in these disturbing tales. A few stories stood out to me, including ‘The Next In Line,’ which was somewhat gruesome and terrifying. ‘The Small Assassin’ was particularly disturbing considering the subject matter. ‘The Emissary’ was a great one for Halloween! ‘The Wind’ and ‘The Homecoming’ struck me as sad stories.
David Aaron Baker does an excellent job with the narration. I listened to this collection over a few days, and one criticism is that the tone of the narration is too similar from one story to the other. 4.5 Stars
As I said, it was quite a month of reading! I completed my Goodreads Challenge goal of 58 books for the year this month. All of these selections brought my count up to 62 books read this year! Currently, I am reading Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro as part of my Literati November selection and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius on my Kindle. I have been debating about my next audiobook selection, perhaps attacking one of the really long titles, some as long as 52 hours. But I haven’t decided, length sometimes intimidates me, the same way the thickness of a book made me shy away from attempting such a feat. I’ll let you know what I decided on next month. Happy reading.