So, it finally happened to me. After several years of the pandemic/general shit show that life has become, reading became a little less of a refuge than it has always been. In 2022 I found it harder to concentrate, harder to lose myself in a story and forget about—gestures wildly—all of that.
Luckily, some of my favorite authors wrote amazing books, as did some authors new to me. And when I count them up, I actually read about the same number of books as usual, so I guess it wasn’t actually as bad as it felt.
First things first, my year in reading by the numbers:
28: The number of books I read in 2022.
26: The number of those that I would classify as horror, science fiction, fantasy, or crime fiction. Hey, I like what I like.
2: The number of graphic novels I read. Once again, I’ll try to do better next year.
13: The number of books I read by new-to-me authors. I was surprised and happy to see this. Several were by talented indie authors I’ve gotten to know and work with over the past year or two.
And now, some of my favorite reads from the past year. These are in no particular order. As far as I’m concerned, all of them are must-reads. I’ll give a little snippet from my review with each book mentioned, but you can find the full reviews, and many more besides, here in the READING section of this blog.
White Cat, Black Dog, by Kelly Link
From my review: With each new collection of short stories, including and especially this one, Link proves that she is one of the finest writers working today. Where does her work fall? It’s genre, sure, but is it new weird, slipstream, horror, fantasy, even magic realism? Yes to all of those, and maybe a few more besides that are unique to her. Link’s stories are genre-defying and genre-smashing, constantly keeping the reader deliriously off balance and questioning reality in the best way.
Fairy Tale, by Stephen King
From my review: It should come as no surprise that Stephen King handles tropes as well as any author, well, ever. In Fairy Tale he deploys three of the biggest: Portal Fantasy, The Hero’s Journey, and the Golden Child, and they work together beautifully. This is a big, bold, exciting fantasy, epic in scope. This is King’s pandemic book, one he wrote after asking himself, “What could you write that would make you happy?”
Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Stephen Graham Jones
From my review: Like My Heart Is a Chainsaw, Don’t Fear the Reaper is a knowing love letter to slashers. If there’s a royal court for final girls, Jade Daniels sits the throne. The body count here may be high, but so is Jones’ clear affection for Jade. The threads of this novel are many and tangled, but Jones always has a firm hold on his material, and never allows it to spin out of control. His writing style is a heady mix of breakneck action and inventive mayhem, but he never loses the beating heart of the story.
We Can Never Leave This Place, by Eric LaRocca
From my review: If, through some infernal alchemy, the DNA of Franz Kafka, William Burroughs, and Clive Barker, were combined, and the resultant child was raised in a haunted house, on a steady diet of Hershel Gordon Lewis and David Cronenberg movies, EC and manga comics, Grimms’ fairytales, and powerful hallucinogens; and if that child grew up to be a writer, they might, just might, create something like We Can Never Leave This Place.
The Pallbearers Club, by Paul Tremblay
From my review: In a very few short years, Paul Tremblay has become one of my favorite horror authors—actually, make that one of my favorite authors, period. In his novels, and particularly in his short story collection, Growing Pains, Tremblay combines truly frightening scenarios with deeply felt characters, bravura storytelling, and sometimes experimental techniques. The Pallbearers Club is a tour de force that easily ranks with Tremblay’s best work, and that’s saying something. Join the club.
Daphne, by Josh Malerman
From my review: I have a confession to make…this is the first novel I’ve read by Josh Malerman. I blame all the wonderful writers out there writing all the wonderful books. After reading Daphne, Malerman’s brutal, terrifying new novel, I’ll be happily dipping into his back catalog, because this book rocks. It’s part serial killer novel, part slasher, part urban mythology, and part coming-of-age. Oh, and it’s scary as hell.
Seasonal Fears, by Seanan McGuire
From my review: Seasonal Fears is a “sidequel” of sorts, set in the same alchemical universe as McGuire’s miraculous novel Middlegame, with several returning characters. I finished reading it literally fifteen minutes ago, so I haven’t had much time to ponder, but I think, for me, it’s at least as good as Middlegame, and maybe, just maybe, even better. Ask me again in a couple of weeks, after the overwhelming experience of reading this book has properly settled in.
The Devil Takes You Home, by Gabino Iglesias
From my review: Iglesias writes with an unfettered, feverish intensity. At the point where other authors might pull back and fade too black, he puts the pedal to the metal with what I’m sure was accompanied by, as he wrote it, a primal scream. There are a couple of scenes in The Devil Takes You Home that made me set the book gently down and step away for a little while. He writes with what I can only describe as a reckless bravado. Even when he’s showing you something you don’t want to see, he does it with such sensory-drenched language, such a flair for description, that you can’t look away.
Razorblade Tears and Blacktop Wasteland, by S. A. Cosby
From my review: I’m not in the habit of reading two novels in a row by the same author—so many books, so little time—but Blacktop Wasteland, the story of a former criminal pulled into one last job to give his family a better life, blew me away. The excellent news for lovers of crime fiction is that Razorblade Tears is even better.
Born for Trouble, the Further Adventures of Hap and Leonard, by Joe R. Lansdale
From my review: Born for Trouble is a new collection of Hap and Leonard stories, which is always cause for celebration. Unlike the past couple of collections, which focused on the boy’s early years, the stories in Born for Trouble cover Hap and Leonard in their later, more mature years. Don’t panic, mature refers only to their age. They are still, for the most part, the same shit-talking, shit-kicking badasses you know and love. Hap may be coming to terms with married life and fatherhood, and he’s a little less quick to pull the trigger, but he’s still tough as nails. And Leonard is still Leonard, just as volatile, just as willing to fuck shit up.
That’s a good place to stop. Born for Trouble was the first book I read in 2022, by the always reliably brilliant Lansdale. And, as it turns out, my last read of the year, which will be the first book I review next year because there’s no way I’m going to finish it in the next 11 days, is Bleeding Shadows, a satifyingly chunky collection of Lansdale short stories, novellas, poems, and more. Starting and ending the year with Joe Lansdale. Huh. I guess 2022 wasn’t so bad after all.