LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2022 - Part II
Original image via Rodnae Productions
Another year has come and gone. You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor staff thinks are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are good-looking and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2022 (part 2).
*Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2022, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it.
Alex Segura — Instructor
"The Paradox Hotel" by Rob Hart
This time-trippy noir shows off what Hart excels at — big picture ideas blended with compelling, unforgettable characters. Don't let the sci-fi trappings confuse you — this is a great mystery novel that will leave you wanting more.
"Like A Sister" by Kellye Garrett
A domestic suspense novel packed with voice, wit, and twists galore — this book will hook you from the opening line (I won't spoil it here!) until the last page. Modern, diverse, sharply-written and deserving of all the accolades it collected this year.
"Kismet" by Amina Akhtar
Kismet is the Sedona wellness industry takedown thriller you never knew you wanted, but have to have — plus, talking ravens! Akhtar's precise, cutting prose is out in full force with this book, and manages to sharpen the knives she first wielded with her debut novel, #FashionVictim.
"Don't Know Tough" by Eli Cranor
Friday Night Lights doused in noir. What more do you want? Cranor's a name to watch — with smooth as silk word choice masking the gritty, menacing characters and rural settings he writes about. If you're looking for a book to haunt you, here it is.
"An Honest Living" by Dwyer Murphy
If you need an Elmore Leonard fix but you're all done with Dutch's books, you could do much worse than Murphy's stylish, grounded debut PI novel. Throw in a dash of Chinatown and classic Marlowe and you've got a recipe for this subtle, fantastic novel.
"They Come at Knight" by Yasmin Angoe
Spy thrillers don't often come in this hot. Angoe's second book ups the stakes from her debut in style, making for an assassin novel unlike any other. Vengeance is the central theme and you will be cheering for Nena Knight before the first few pages have been turned.
"Real Bad Things" by Kelly J Ford
A sloppy, beer-soaked uppercut to the jaw. Real Bad Things is a queer rural noir that's loaded with secrets, double-crosses, and pitch-black darkness. Ford just keeps getting better.
"The Devil Takes You Home" by Gabino Iglesias
If you're in the mood for something bleak this holiday season, this one's for you. Iglesias' horror-tinged thriller doesn't skimp on the tragic and haunting. This one's as noir as they come.
"White Horse" by Erika T. Wurth
One of the most powerful, memorable debuts I've ever read, Wurth's White Horse is a gritty, unforgettable tale of secrets and spirits told in a way only Wurth could deliver.
"Anywhere You Run" by Wanda M. Morris
A riveting, textured novel about two sisters trying to escape their shared, haunted past — Morris is fast becoming one of the strongest voices in crime fiction.
Andrea J. Johnson — Columnist
I love being a professor, but I hate the classroom. So my resolution for 2022 was to get out of teaching and into coaching fiction writers. This means my reading list has been dominated with the idea of building a more fulfilling life and helping others do the same. Admittedly, none of these books were recently published, but I would argue their inspiration is evergreen.
"The Desire Map Experience" by Danielle Laporte
Use your heart, not your head, to discover what’s most important about your health, happiness, and career. Sounds crazy, right? Sure, this book can get a little hippy-dippy, but crafting goals based on feelings rather than societal expectations removes the pressure of being perfect and puts the focus back on YOU, which increases the likelihood of success.
"The Science of Storytelling" by Will Storr
Don’t let the neuroscience and psychological research scare you away. This text is a must-have for any writer curious about why people still love basic storytelling despite our technological advances. Storr uses myths, archetypes, and man’s ambition as well as the works of Jane Austen and television hits like Breaking Bad to help us make our stories more compelling.
"The Genius Zone" by Gay Hendricks
Hendricks is the author of The Big Leap, which I also recommend, but this more recent book makes the list because it emphasizes something that we tend to forget when goalsetting: recommitment. Just because you failed today, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again tomorrow. Endeavor to put all your energy into your passions (even if that means an occasional misstep) and the cumulative effects are bound to forever change your life.
"Mindset" by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.
The book’s conceit is simple: People with a fixed mindset are less likely to succeed than those with a growth mindset. You’ll be surprised how this acknowledgment of a simply truth will revolutionize your self-discipline. Dweck also tackles the debate of intelligence versus natural talent, using scientific research to prove that both intelligence and ability can be cultivated, noting our capacity for improvement, whether innate or learned, is malleable.
"Influence" by Robert B Cialdini, Ph.D.
While I am sure Cialdini would hate me touting this as a marketing book, the content speaks for itself. Influence covers six principles you need to know to become a master persuader — a key edge for becoming the go-to expert in your genre and selling your book in a tight market.
Joshua Chaplinsky — Managing Editor
"Babysitter" by Joyce Carol Oates
I love it when Oates goes dark, and Babysitter is pitch black. The masterfully told story of a disaffected suburban wife taking place during a spate of child murders in the 1970s.
"American Stutter" by Steve Erickson
Erickson has already written two very good books of political nonfiction/memoir, and this more personal effort unofficially completes the trilogy, detailing the author's daily life during the final 18 months of the Trump presidency.
"Toad" by Katherine Dunn
A gift to all of us who thought we'd never get to read another novel by Dunn. Although written closer to her early, experimental works, this posthumous novel is more deserving of a place next to her magnum opus, Geek Love.
"The Autodidacts" by Thomas Kendall
Anything but typical yet compulsively readable, The Autodidacts is a grounded character piece sprinkled liberally with mysterious, Lynchian digressions. It has one foot planted firmly in reality and the other hovering over a foggy chasm of unknowable depth.
"The Shards" by Bret Easton Ellis
The adult enfant terrible returns with his first new novel in 12 years. This satisfying mix of Less than Zero and Lunar Park gives Ellis fans exactly what they want without being an emotional retread.
"Cinema Speculation" by Quentin Tarantino
Part film criticism, part memoir, and thoroughly enjoyable. Tarantino's manic mind delves into the minutiae of some of the most formative films of the 70s without leaning too far into his potentially grating persona. A treat for film lovers.
Ben Tanzer — Columnist
"Dear Damage" by Ashley Marie Farmer
A love letter and a dirge, a rumination on grief, family, a life in the arts, and never less than beautiful.
"Dream Pop Origami: A Permutational Memoir" by Jackson Bliss
A celebratory swirl of music, identity and life lived, even among loss and neglect and all the ways the world lets us down.
"Jacket Weather" by Mike DeCapite
Auto fiction, memoir, flash, and sketches, who knows, who cares, a love story, in love with words, New York City and love itself.
"White Horse" by Erika T. Wurth
A horror story that feels as real as the monsters in our heads, and suffused with all Wurth does so well— dread, humor, pain and the ever present threat of violence.
"Book of Extraordinary Tragedies" by Joe Meno
Few writers today can hope to write quite like Meno writes, the stories all deep and rich, a gut punch and a punk song, in every sentence, on every page.
John Skipp — Instructor
"Dark Factory" by Kathe Koja
I have so much to say about this book—by far my favorite of the year—that rather than review it, I had to interview her live and share that brain-meld with the world. (You can watch that here.) But suffice it to say the sheer brilliance of this interactive novel—ostensibly about the club scene, but really about the quest for replicable orgasmic communal transcendence—overflows off its pages and all over your soul, via prose so jacked-up you’d think someone dosed Cormac McCarthy with ecstasy (both the drug and the experience). In its knowingness, its rigor, its sheer velocity, its depth of perception and implacable search for genuine meaning in this world and beyond, Dark Factory isn’t a book. It’s an explosion. And Kathe Koja isn’t a writer. She’s a revolution.
"Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles" by Mark Rozzo
I know we largely think of Frank Booth when we think of Dennis Hopper today. But somewhere between Rebel Without a Cause and Easy Rider, he met and married the equally enigmatic Brooke Hayward. And their whirlwind love affair charted the course of pop art and the counterculture, down to its spiraling, spectacular flameout. This staggeringly researched, breathlessly page-turning read may be the best celebratory bio/cultural history I’ve ever inhaled into my brain. (And if you ever wondered who first brought Andy Warhol to L.A., now you’ll know!)
"You Only Bend Once With a Spoonful of Mercury" by Jennifer Robin
When it comes to daily doses of unfathomable weirdness, nothing comes close to our nightly dreamscapes, where our unconscious unwinds and spills those visions on our souls. And nowhere is this stated more clearly than in this delirious dream compendium by the astonishing Jennifer Robin, whose intoxicating voice is matched only by her fearless, unfettered literary libido. You should all be so lucky as to hear her hypnotic live reading of “David Duchovny’s Cock,” from this collection. In the meantime, BUY THE BOOK!
"Moonfellows" by Danger Slater
Speaking of sheer delight, nothing made me happier this year than this literally science-free bizarro science fiction novel, where the rules of space travel might as well be etched by a six-year-old genius with the world’s best box of crayons. Or, more accurately, Kurt Vonnegut with the world’s best box of crayons. Danger Slater has the rare gift of making deep sorrow hilarious without robbing it of its punch, and the imaginative chops to slingshot you to the moon like Georges Méliès. And for the record, Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World) needs to make this film, because it precisely mirrors the hand-cranked Vasoline-smeared retro lens aesthetic he (and now Danger) has so lovingly perfected.
"Return of the Living Elves" by Brian Asman
And finally, I’m just gonna let my unsolicited blurb do the dirty work. Because immediately upon finishing, this is exactly how I felt: "The fastest, funniest, most splat-tastic horror event of the holiday season! This deft, festive riff on Return of the Living Dead is a super-sly satire of one of the great zombie satires, with so many dizzying, ingenious twists you'll have to pound your skull back on with a sledgehammer. My favorite Brian Asman book. And THE PERFECT HOWLIDAY GIFT!!!"
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