M.B. Henry’s Top 10 Reads for 2022!
What a year for books! And I don’t just mean the release of my own, which believe me, it was a real whirlwind (click here to learn more about that). There were the book signings, the zoom-in book clubs, and the book release parties – the sales, the marketing, the social media. It was a lot to learn and sometimes, it was a real interesting experience trying to stay afloat! But through it all, I couldn’t be more proud to see my book smiling down at me from bookstore shelves all over the country. It was a major dream come to life, and I couldn’t thank all my readers and supporters enough for that.
Along with my own adventures in literature, it was also another fantastic year for reading. I found myself dabbling in all kinds of different genres this year, even picking up a new fantasy series for the first time in decades. Yes, I do mean decades, not to age myself at all! 😉 Another big twist in my book year was that I didn’t read as much Historical Fiction as usual. Instead, I tended to gravitate towards meaty family dramas and even some good suspense novels, diving into the David Baldacci world for the first time. I guess no matter how awesome your favorite genre is, sometimes you just need to branch out. However, I never stay far from non-fiction historical reads, and I read more than a few good ones this year. Some just for fun, and some for research for my latest writing project, of which I’m hopeful you will hear more about very, very soon!
I also have to admit that I had a larger amount of DNF (Did Not Finish) reads than usual. Although I do think that had more to do with my busier schedule than the books themselves, it’s always sad when I’m unable to finish a book. I guess I feel like there’s so many books and so little time, so if I’m not hooked in after a certain amount of chapters, I have to put it aside. Also, I sometimes just bite off more than I can chew with books and can’t possibly finish all the ones that I start!
Through it all, there were plenty of gems in my reading this year, and after a lot of back and forth, I managed to pick the ten that stood out to me the most. Whether they taught me something new, gave me a badly needed laugh, allowed me to view the world through a different lens, or moved my heart with absolutely beautiful writing, all of these reads have stuck with me through 2022. It gives me great pleasure to share them with you now – in no particular order:
Black Buck – Mateo Askaripour
While the intro to the book was interesting enough on its own, “Black Buck” also tells the wildly entertaining story of Darren – a contented twenty-something Starbucks barista who doesn’t need much more from life than his girlfriend’s company and his mother’s love. But then he meets Rhett Daniels – the CEO of a mysterious, hot new tech start-up company. Impressed by his persuasive skills when it comes to selling drinks, Daniels offers Darren the opportunity for a new path, laden with riches and success. What follows is a roller coaster ride that takes Darren through the many and intense pitfalls of being a black employee at a mostly-white company, not to mention his dizzying journey from the ground floor to the… well, read it and find out for yourself! A book that made me laugh, cry, and cringe in horror, this is a story that will definitely keep you guessing.
Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen
I think I fessed up last year about what a sucker I am for a good meaty family drama. If you’ve read Jonathan Franzen, you will know that despite the controversy he sometimes sparks, he’s dang talented at delivering on the family drama front. His latest work follows the contentious and quite dysfunctional Hildebrandt clan in 1970s Chicago. There’s Russ, the arrogant, wife-neglecting pastor of a local church who would do well to heed some of his own religious advice. His wife Marion – whose unfulfilled life dreams and desires have put her a bit off track. Then there are their children, Clem, Becky, and Perry. One rashly enlists in the army, one falls into the dark world of drugs and mental illness, and the other gets snapped up in a whirlwind relationship that delivers a surprise much faster than expected. It’s the stuff that any good family drama is made of, against the highly charged backdrop of Vietnam America – which leaves ample room for thought-provoking political thoughts and ideas. Despite its length, you won’t want to put this one down.
LA Weather – Maria Amparo Escandon
Along with meaty family dramas, I also have a soft spot for stories that take place in my old Los Angeles stomping grounds. When I happened upon this book, I found a story that includes both. Here we meet the Alvarado family, and the incredible mess each member happens to be in, while Los Angeles swelters under a historic drought. Patriarch Oscar winds up in a heap when he buys an almond farm behind his family’s back, only to have the drought pick both the farm and his life savings apart. Keila, his wife, can’t understand her husband’s mounting distance, or his newfound obsession with the Weather Channel, and she contemplates filing for divorce. And while her three daughters bring the judgment hammer down on her head for that, they can’t escape the truth of their own flawed relationships, which are all in various states of crumble. A story that both opens and closes with harrowing near-deaths, this was a wonderful read that had me rooting for each family member to win out in the end.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois – Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
To tell you the truth, I’m at a loss on how to sum up this absolutely beautiful book. A story that spans several generations, provides a glimpse into the many perils of racism, and allows one to view the world through so many different lenses, all I can say is this book, despite its length, was well worth the time I put into it. A dual timeline story that follows budding historical scholar Ailey in the present day, and the long, often-times heartbreaking story of her many enslaved ancestors (all threaded together with quotes and sayings from W.E.B Du Bois), this story has so much to offer – with powerful themes of education, history, overcoming adversity, and rising up to empower oneself. I was especially taken in by Ailey’s story, as she discovers the gravitational pull of what it means to study history and try to bring it to life. In short – this book helped me fall in love all over again with the magic of what I do, and what’s not to like about that?
The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s – Piers Brendon
The rise of Fascism. Worldwide Economic Collapse. The Dust Bowl. Poverty. Warring political factions. Dictators on the prowl. A bloody Civil War. When you take all this into account, it’s hard to think of a decade much darker than the 1930s, and this incredibly detailed volume encapsulates it all. With viewpoints spanning every corner of the world, it’s easy to see through the highly informative writing how this incredibly turbulent time lit the match for the explosive Second World War. Anyone looking to understand this difficult decade, along with the repercussions from it that dribble into the modern day, will benefit from reading this fantastic historical work.
All Souls Trilogy – Deborah Harkness
Vampires, Daemons, and Witches – oh, my! The first fantasy series I have read in quite some time, I stumbled upon this gem in the library when I was looking for something to get me in the Halloween mood. I had never heard of it before, despite its rather substantial fan base and the successful television series it spawned. This trilogy follows Vampire Matthew and super-witch Diana as they fall into a forbidden romance amidst a supernatural world on the brink of war – mostly over a centuries old, and now missing, “book of life” that could change the meaning of their existence as they all know it. Heavy on the swoony romance and laced with suspense and imagination (not to mention time travel!), I highly recommend this immensely entertaining series.
The Nineties – Chuck Klosterman
I’m lucky to be a part of an incredibly special generation – the last to experience life before the internet and social media took over everything. Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, my adulthood has been ruled by the internet, but I still remember summer days spent outside until the street lights came on, drinking from the garden hose, and roaming the neighborhood on my bicycle without a cell phone. Because there were no cell phones. Unless you want to count Zach Morris’s brick phone from Saved By the Bell, a 90s high school sit-com I tried to never miss. Klosterman’s throwback read to a truly unique decade brought back a whole slew of memories. He relives the 90s in all their flannel swaddled, Doc-Martin splendor – the great Nirvana songs, the cheesy comedy movies, the first email accounts, the super-cool car phones, the Oregon Trail game, and the excellent TV shows (like the one with all of the FRIENDS!). Honestly, the only thing missing was the jelly shoes. Give this book a read for a truly enjoyable shot of nostalgia.
Left-Handed History of the World – Ed Wright
Not only am I a part of a very special generation, I’m also a proud member of the elite Southpaw club. Our numbers may be few (only one in ten people are left-handed), and we have our weaknesses (more likely to die young, more likely to be mentally ill, and more likely to have bad tempers and drinking problems). But on the whole, lefties are a dominating force. Ed Wright’s fabulous book reminded me just how many of the world greats were lefties, including but not limited to Joan of Arc, Leonardo Davinci, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Alan Turing, Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix, Babe Ruth, and many, many, many more history makers, earth shakers, and core quakers. Fun side note – an exceptional number of military geniuses were also lefties – including Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Patton. So, if the lefties choose to rise up, you better watch out. Because with our foul tempers and fine fighting skills, we just might make YOU use left-handed scissors.
The Prophets – Robert Jones Jr.
This incredibly powerful book from a debut author tells the story of Samuel and Isaiah, two young men enslaved on a plantation in the pre-Civil War Deep South. Danger lurks around them in many forms, but tensions mount even higher when a relationship develops between them, putting them, and their loved ones, at odds with the new plantation preacher who is out to curry favor with the slave owners. There was a lot to love about this novel, especially the inclusion of so many different viewpoints, and the unique focus on the women and their heaps of extra plights. But I think what moved me the most about this book was the many things I learned about ancient Africa while reading. Jones weaves so many interesting cultural facts and customs into the story, and he does so in a most stunningly beautiful way. With a book that left me both haunted and educated, crafted with some very extraordinary writing, I can’t wait to see what comes next from this author.
The Women of Chateau Lafayette – Stephanie Dray
I very much enjoyed “America’s First Daughter” when it came out, and it made my top ten list for that year. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Stephanie Dray found her way back here. This time telling the story of Chateau Lafayette, a castle in France that played host to many famous faces throughout history. This story focuses on three women in particular – one being Madame Lafayette herself, wife of the famous freedom fighter. Another is Beatrice Chanler, a witty, WWI-era socialite who decides to put her connections and money to use to help war orphans. The third is an orphan-turned-resistor who forges fake identity cards for Jewish children in World War II. Being along for the ride during three different world-rattling conflicts makes a great read by itself, but readers can also find a lot of inspiration in how the women cross paths in their own way, finding so much courage, comfort, and hope within the walls of their historic building.
Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr
What do a fifteenth century young orphan, a modern-day octogenarian, and a futuristic teen trapped on a spaceship have in common? The answer is the long-time legend of Cloud Cuckoo Land – an imaginative tale that interweaves three completely different lives in a way you will never expect.
Bellewether – Susanna Kearsley
I love me a good dual timeline, especially when it involves a ghost. When hauntings persist at the small-town museum, curator Charley tracks down the legend of a 1750s French officer, his lover Lydia, and a romance interrupted by war. Part swoony, part ghosty, it’s an engaging story with an ending I didn’t see coming.
Dream Town – David Baldacci
Was it the setting in old-timey Hollywood, or the 1950s slang that drew me in? Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience with Baldacci’s private eye Aloysius Archer. This time tracing a screenwriter gone missing in the city of dreams. Hang on to your fedora hat, because it’s quite a ride in a very fancy car.
And that’s a wrap on this year’s top ten reads! Let me hear your favorite books of the year in the comments below!
NOTE: This will be my last post of 2022! I wish all of you a most miraculous holiday season, and I look forward to another great year on WordPress! Bring it on, 2023!