Thursday, December 15, 2022

Some Really Good Books I Read in 2022 From James W. Ziskin

I’m not crazy about the Best Books of the Year lists. To be clear, I don’t object to the great books on those lists. They deserve accolades. I only wish the reviewers could use a better description for their annual lists. Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books does exactly that. He’s always careful to note that he’s not proclaiming his choices as “the best books of the year.” He calls them instead his “Top Reads” of the year.

For the past few years, I’ve been listing the books I particularly enjoyed over the previous twelve months.


(In no particular order)

We all know about the Lindbergh kidnapping, but Mariah Fredericks—one of my favorite writers—somehow made it all seem new. And so exquisitely personal and detailed.

This book hooked me and kept me thinking about it long after I’d finished it. Truly one of the most memorable books I’ve read in many years. I loved it! Superlative writing and research. The Lindbergh Nanny is a stunning achievement.

Naomi Hirahara’s Clark and Division is a must read. A compelling recount of the lives of interned Japanese Americans during World War II. This is an award-winning novel that taught me a lot that I didn’t know happened in our own country. A brave and beautiful book.

The Ride-Along, by Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway, will challenge your assumptions, prejudices, and biases. With unflinching honesty and remarkable balance, this important novel tackles the issues of policing, politics, institutional racism, Black Lives Matter, and more, all over the course of a dramatic graveyard shift ride-along. A third-generation cop and a police-reform activist engage in a marathon point-counterpoint that seems hopeless from the start. There are no easy answers here. Yet Zafiro and Conway manage to tiptoe through the partisan minefield without taking sides or providing pat, facile solutions. The Ride-Along is a brilliant, measured achievement. An informative and provocative must-read in these contentious times.

Jeffery Deaver is a master of plot and character. He leads the reader where he wants with his sleight of hand. Brilliant. I loved the detail on locks and keys in this book. It felt a little like Moby-Dick, if Moby-Dick had been about locks instead of 19th century whaling. A veritable encyclopedia. Another great addition the Lincoln Rhyme series.

Intriguing and riveting, Connie di Marco's latest Zodiac Mystery, Serpent's Doom, is a new year's firecracker of an adventure. Told with heart and conscience, Serpent's Doom features a superb cast and setting, with a plot right out of the headlines. The best yet in this highly original series.

Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister drew me in immediately and held on tight for the duration. Garrett paints a complete, compelling, and riveting portrait of two estranged sisters, one of whom—Desiree, the glamorous famous one—has been found dead from a drug overdose on a Bronx playground. Regret dogs her half-sister, Lena, and drives her—relentlessly—to find out exactly what happened to Desiree. Readers will be swept along in Lena’s churning wake, unable to resist turning just one more page. Just one more page. This book is killer good. Garrett is a star.

Vinnie Hansen’s One Gun unspools a long, exquisite crescendo of foreboding and dread as clouds gather for a chilling, unexpected climax. Top-notch writing, sensitive touch, and heart-wrenching choices. Hansen is an author to watch.

A ruthless and clever killer haunts the Metropolitan Opera and the hidden recesses of Lincoln Center. Violinist Julia Kogen, a rising star in the pit, must unmask the murderer or become a victim herself. Erica Miner’s richly satisfying Aria for Murder delivers a compelling mystery, replete with devious characters, glorious music, and plenty of behind-the-scenes dirty laundry. A musical and dramatic triumph. Bis! Encore!

I loved this book. Reminded me so much of my days working in Bangalore. Harini Nagendra has written an immersive historical novel that shows readers so much beauty and ugliness at the same time. Class and racial divides, rich and poor, educated and un-. It’s all there. A peek into South Indian society of the 1920s. This is a sensitive, well-rounded, fascinating novel with heart and a super protagonist. Highest recommendation.

Non-stop danger and action. The nature and science are compelling. Henderson puts the threat to polar bears on display while weaving a super yarn. Another great Dr. Alex Carter adventure!

Wanda M. Morris’s Anywhere You Run is a powerful, emotional, heartbreaking tale of love and survival and redemption. Much more than an entertaining thriller, this is an essential read that chronicles the injustices suffered every day by blacks in the Jim Crow South—and the supposedly progressive North—of 1964. Brilliant and deeply moving. Don’t miss this thrilling novel. One of the best I’ve read in a long time.

Our own Cathy Ace offers up yet another gem. Featuring incomparable criminal psychologist, Cait Morgan, her eidetic memory, and her solid-as-a-rock husband, Bud Anderson, The Corpse with the Granite Heart recalls the best of Golden Age country house mysteries. Its sharp characterizations—one of Ace’s many strengths—as well as the clever, intricate plot, pave the way to a most satisfying conclusion. The artistic and gastronomical treats, the touristic jags, Shakespeare, and Cait’s brilliant powers of deduction all conspire to make this the best yet in this ever-so-smart series. 

The Girl They All Forgot, Martin Edwards’s eighth Lake District Mystery, seethes with a foreboding of violence, even as it looks back at a long-buried cold case of murder. The Crooked Shore, accursed scene of the crime, looms ever-present with malicious intent. Magnificently creepy estate agents, stop-at-nothing gigolos, and lustful widows with bags of cash make this a tense and irresistibly gripping read. It will suck you in like the Crooked Shore’s murderous quicksand. No use struggling against it. You’ll lose. Brilliant.

Alex Segura’s feel for the 70s, his portrait of a decaying, bankrupt New York City, and the incestuous comic book industry is painted to perfection. Secret Identity is getting great attention and praise. It’s on so many best-of lists for 2022, and I can see why. My advice is to read this book. I’ll bet you’ll love it as I did. 

Last, but certainly not least, is Liz Nugent’s Lying in Wait (2018)

I found this novel to be remarkable in several ways. First, the voice. Or the voices. The three narrators tell the compelling story from different points of view with quite different voices. Second, the plot. Nugent weaves a tight, at times painful story, that does not flinch when it comes to taking dark turns. Third, the book draws the reader into the suspense, almost as a participant. We know what’s happened, what might happen at the end, and still we’re surprised by the twists. This is a dark, disturbing story. Lying in Wait is brilliantly creepy. So very good.

Happy holidays and happy reading!


Connie di Marco said...

Thank you, Jim! I'm thrilled to be included in such a great lineup.

Colin Conway said...

Thank you for the shout-out, Jim! Frank and I truly appreciate the kind words.

Terry said...

Jim, what a great list. And I loved your descriptions. Not the same old, same old.

Laurie Stevens said...

I've read Connie DiMarco's book and couldn't agree more, Jim. Nice to visit the Criminal Minds.

Kim said...

Terrific list, Jim - I love how eclectic it is! I agree with Terry, the descriptions are original - much appreciate in this day and age of the typical blurb. Also agree with Laurie - love seeing the Zodiac series here. I've read them all and really enjoy them.

Kathy Reel said...

Great list, Jim. I've enjoyed some and want to read others. I have always called my end-of-year list My Favorite Reads and not The Best. What I love about all the different lists is seeing what others have enjoyed the most, too. I'm desperately trying to fit in more reading before the year ends, so my list of favorites won't be out until either the last day of December or the first of January.

Susan C Shea said...

Jim, if you owned a bookstore, it would become the most successful in the country! Your specific and enthusiastic reviews are enticing. I've already added several to my TBR list. And you chose books by some wonderful but not highly enough rated writers I know, sp how could I not be thrilled? Thanks.