Kat’s 2022 Book List

My goal used to be 52 books a year, but after I read 75 last year, I decided to keep striving for that number. (This year I read 52+ in fiction alone.) I ended up with 77 books this year, squeezing the 77th in by finishing it on Dec. 31, after my final public release of the list.

Themes of this year included a LOT of historical fiction, especially about women in medicine. Some subject-matter areas that I tend to read every year and did again this year include Indian/Indian-American women, enslaved women, books that trash Scientology, the US space program, presidential bios and history, fiction and nonfiction books set in the art world, and true crime, though it feels like I read less of that than usual. I did my usual dip into 19th-century classics. This year saw a bumper crop of books slightly marred by implausible coincidences.

Favorite authors revisited included Harlen Coben, Barbara Kingsolver (her new Demon Copperhead was one of my favorites of the year), Catherine Ryan Hyde, Peter Swanson, Adriana Trigiani, Jean Hanff Korelitz (both of these also with books on my favorites list), Anthony Horowitz, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Laura Lippmann, Michelle Obama, and Ivan Doig. Notable authors new to me this year whose books I want to read more of include Philippa Gregory, Maeve Binchy (not really new as I bought lots of her books for my mom), and several on my lists of favorites, which appear below in image form. A new genre for me this year was Latina women, as I read books about women set in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

Given that I claim to gravitate to female authors, I like to keep count; this year’s total included 52 female authors and 26 male authors (total is greater than total books because one book had two authors). A higher proportion of my nonfiction choices (68 percent) were male-authored than were fiction choices (10 percent male-authored).

Within each category – fiction and nonfiction – books are listed in the order in which I read them.

Goals for 2023: 75 or more books again, more from new and old favorite authors, and I think I’d like my 19th-centuy dip to include one or more of the Bronte sisters. Also kinda want to read David Copperfield, on which Demon Copperhead is a take-off.

I’ve proofed this massive tome, but I’m not a great proofreader, so typos are possible. Apologies for the difference in formatting between the Fiction and Nonfiction lists; that seemed to be the only way WordPress would let me make a continuously numbered list.

Favorites in Fiction


  1. The 10th Muse, by Catherine Chung. I’m not sure how I chose this novel, but I’m glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found the storytelling exceptional. Given my utter lack of facility in math, it’s a bit surprising that The 10th Muse was the second novel about a female mathematician I’ve read in the last 12 months. I had to do a bit of research on Chung, given that she shares the protagonist’s first name and Chinese roots. Apparently Chung did study math for a time, but did not become a mathematician. I couldn’t locate her birthdate, but from her photo, I’m guessing she is considerably younger than her same-named protagonist, who was born during WWII. Setting Catherine’s story in a somewhat earlier time than her own gave Chung a better opportunity to explore the extreme sexism of the mathematics academic discipline. The other major story, an engrossing one, is Catherine’s quest to learn about her biological parents. Terrific novel. I recommend it.
  2. Rutherford Park, by Elizabeth Cooke. This novel about British aristocracy just before WWI in 1913 took me a while to get into, and I had a few false starts. Ultimately, it didn’t knock my socks off but was a pretty good read with lots of family drama in which the Lord and Lady seem to have a loveless marriage, their heir has an unfortunate dalliance with a maid, and their daughter gets mixed up in a revenge plot related to her father. I perked up when an intriguing American entered the picture and started wooing the Lady. I wasn’t in love with the narrator.
  3. I, Eliza Hamilton, by Susan Holloway Scott. Those who know my reading habits will not be surprised that I read a novelized bio of Eliza Hamilton even though I’d already read a novelized bio of Eliza Hamilton (My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie). I’ve also read Ron Chernow’s dense bio of Alexander himself, from which the blockbuster Hamilton musical was derived. Both the earlier Eliza novel and this one are written in first person. They have similar narrators. My Dear Hamilton was one of my favorite books of 2020, but I don’t recall it clearly enough to be able to say one Eliza book is better than the other. I enjoyed both. The only real difference I can point to is that the authors of My Dear Hamilton devoted much more space to Hamilton’s death in a duel with Aaron Burr than Scott did. Hamilton, of course, was really the focus of both books, and alas, Eliza wouldn’t have much of a story without him. Eliza steadfastly supports him and believes he can do no wrong (even when he does) in both books. Maybe the world is due for a re-imagining of the Eliza and Alexander story.
  4. The Sentence is Death, by Anthony Horowitz. This was my fourth novel from the extremely prolific Horowitz (80+ books) and a perfectly pleasant, serviceable but unremarkable whodunnit. What I have most liked about the Horowitz books I’ve read are his clever gimmicks, such as making himself a character in his books, tucking a novel within a novel. Horowitz also makes himself a character in The Sentence is Death, so the gimmick didn’t feel especially fresh. The novel was the second in a series about a private investigator; I didn’t read the first one.
  5. The Woman in White, by Willkie Collins. I always strive to read at least one literary classic annually, usually from the 19th century. I knew almost nothing about Collins, but the book, from 1860, sounded intriguing. Willkie’s writing is marvelous, with wonderful turns of phrase. A humble drawing teacher falls in love with his aristocratic pupil, but she is betrothed to a baron at her late father’s behest. Once she marries said baron, a complicated conspiracy unfolds. The story is intricate and compelling but probably could have been shorter. The tale is told through multiple narrators, and by that I don’t mean Audible narrators but narrators specifically designated as such by the author. Two Audible narrators – one make and one female – cover all the narration roles.
  6. Sisters, One, Two, Three, by Nancy Star. A dysfunctional-family story told in dual timelines. This story, in which three sisters confront a long ago tragedy, was reasonably absorbing. Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, a prolific narrator who has narrated many books I’ve read.
  7. The Parted Earth, by Anjali Enjeti. This book, which won a 2021 Audie Award for Best Female Narrator for Deepti Gupta, falls into one of my favorite genres – women of India and Indian-American women. I always learn something about Indian culture and history when I read books in this genre, and this one was no exception. In particular, I learned about extreme discrimination against Muslims and overall violence in the late 1940s in India, fomented by the partition of India in 1947, which divided British India into India and Pakistan along religious lines, with Muslims in Pakistan and Hindus in India. I had heard the term “partition,” but really didn’t know the details. Like most of the books I’ve read in this genre, this one was culturally rich and narratively satisfying. I found the narration perfectly fine, but honestly, nothing special.
  8. The Match, by Harlan Coben. After six Cobens in 2021, my first Coben of 2022. This one convenes two characters that, not only has Coben written about before, but one of them is from a Coben book that has been turned into a Netflix series – but with gender changed (The Stranger). The Netflix Cobens are also set in the UK. I had thought the other character, Wilde, was also part of a Coben Netflix film but must have mixed it up with another UK-set series. Wilde was found as a boy living feral in the woods, with no memory of his past. The ending of The Match explains how he got there. I will now need to read the first Wilde book, The Boy from the Woods (see next entry). I’m wondering if it will reveal how Wilde supports himself. He doesn’t seem to have a job but does a fair amount of traveling to solve mysteries. Coben likes to build his storylines around trendy topics; this time it’s genetic genealogy. The Match was one of Coben’s better books, though I’ve liked them all to one extent or another. He seems to have tightened up his storytelling over the years. While his earlier books seemed unnecessarily long, this one is just the right length.
  9. The Boy from the Woods, by Harlan Coben. This first entry in the Wilde series does, in fact, answer the question of how Wilde makes a living; he was one of the founders of a private-security company. While he’s no longer active in the firm, he’s still a silent partner, enjoying profits from the company. The trendy topic in this Coben novel is a Trump-like presidential candidate from the realm of reality TV (the book was published in 2020). He’s not meant to be Trump, as Coben mentions Trump as a real person, but he has many of the same characteristics. The plot involves high-schoolers caught up in this candidate’s efforts to keep scandalous videos, especially one that seemingly shows the candidate committing murder, from becoming public. Like Trump, the candidate is Teflon and suffers no consequences for his misdeeds. I didn’t like this one quite as much as The Match, but I enjoyed the familiar characters and precursors to the plot of The Match.
  10. Still Lives, by Maria Hummel. A thriller set in the art world is a good combo for me, and this one was decent. Narrated by a reliable (though sometimes breathless) member of the Audible stable, Tavia Gilbert, whom I’ve listened to a number of times, the story concerns the disappearance of a famous photographer just as her first exhibition in 10 years is opening. Once the killer was unveiled, the novel continued for 40 minutes, which usually indicates a twist – that the killer was not the killer. But not in this case. The extra 40 minutes amounted to little and could have been omitted.
  11. Dear Mrs. Bird, by AJ Pierce. This novel, set in London during WWII, is mostly lighthearted and even humorous, but also provides dramatic and horrific glimpses into the air raids of the London Blitz by the Germans. The protagonist is an aspiring war reporter who lands a very entry-level job selecting and typing letters for a picky advice columnist, Mrs. Bird, who refuses to advise on anything touching on “immoral.” Thus, our heroine, Emmy, embarks on helping the likes of unwed mothers, victims of affairs, and girls considering “going all the way” with their beaus. She also works for the fire brigade that handles fires during air raids. In fact, the book turns out to focus almost more attention on the lives of young women during the Blitz than on Emmy’s work with Mrs. Bird. An author’s note at the end affirms this attention was her intention. She was inspired to write the book after coming across a stash of women’s magazines published during WWII and was especially fascinated with what advice columns revealed about women’s lives at that time. I’ve always been struck by how the British seemed to carry on normal lives even as they were been bombed regularly; it calls to mind the tragic situation in Ukraine as I write these words.
  12. Seven Perfect Things, by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This was the fourth book I’ve read by Hyde, an author I like for her old-school style and heartwarming subject matter (e.g., kids, dysfunctional families, animals, curmudgeons). I enjoyed this one, about the intersection of an unhappy wife trapped in an abusive marriage, a grieving widower, and a teenager who rescues a litter of puppies from being drowned in a river. Authors who manage to create suspense even when the outcome is predictable deserve credit in my book.
  13. Mislaid, by Nell Zink. I’m giving this novel a “meh.” Just not sure what the author was trying to get across with it. I suspect it was meant to be humorous, given the line in the publisher’s summary that refers to a “comedic finale worthy of Shakespeare,” leaving me wondering if I read the same book they published. I do have a high humor threshold but didn’t find anything comedic anywhere in the book, which is set in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a dysfunctional-family story about a gay man and a lesbian (who may have been less aware of her gayness than her husband was of his) who marry. For unclear reasons, when the wife leaves her husband, she decides that she and her daughter will both identify as Black. Overall, the book was just narratively deficient – not enough story for me. Another Cassandra Campbell narration.
  14. Widow Walk, by Gar LaSalle. I was attracted to this piece of historical fiction because it’s set in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington Territory, albeit,the western/coastal portion, rather than eastern part where I live, in 1857. I enjoyed references to places I’ve been – Bellingham and Port Townsend – and places I haven’t (Whidbey Island). No mention of Seattle, which was only 6 years old at the time. To me, the book reads a lot more like history than fiction, largely because the author employs minimal dialogue. He does, however, draw from true events and real people (at least some of his characters are real). A major focus of the book is atrocities committed both on and by indigenous people. I liked the fact that the widow of the title is portrayed in empowering fashion. I learned a lot but found the storytelling lacking.
  15. Nine Lives, by Peter Swanson. Swanson seems to have published a book every year since 2015 (though he skipped 2016), and I’ve read five of the eight. I’ve written numerous times about his first book, the super twisty The Kind Worth Killing, which he has yet to surpass or even equal, but I’ve enjoyed all but one (All the Beautiful Lies, which was pretty bad). Nine Lives is peppered with pop-culture references, especially nods to famous mystery writers and their books. At least two other books of his celebrate these legends. Characters in Nine Lives liken the plot in which they find themselves to two of Agatha Christie’s books, 10 Little Indians (alternate title – one of several – And Then There Were None) and The ABC Murders; Swanson’s latest bears a resemblance to but is not exactly like these two. Though I often complain about books that are unnecessarily long, I wish Nine Lives had been longer; it whizzed by. I guess I’ll just have to dip into the three Swansons I haven’t read while waiting for next year’s entry. I’ll characterize Nine Lives the same way I did Anthony Horowitz’s The Sentence is Death above: “perfectly pleasant, serviceable but unremarkable whodunnit” as well as a “whydunnit.” No major twists, but a small nice one at the end.
  16. What Was Mine, by Helen Klein Ross. I was engaged in this story of an unhappily childless woman who impulsively steals a baby while its mother isn’t paying attention at an Ikea store. The book was somewhat marred by a preposterous premise that led to its climax, but I was intrigued by the fact that the reader (or at least this reader) has a modicum of sympathy for the kidnapper woman even when no real excuse or redemption for her heinous act is present. The ending is also abrupt, but somewhat satisfying.
  17. The Widow, by KL Slater. This psychological thriller was recommended to me by my good friend Holly Reslink. I was engaged in its no fewer than 4 mysteries, none of which came out the way the reader might have guessed based on early evidence (although I did guess one murderer). The novel also explores the choices a widowed spouse may make in trying to protect the deceased spouse’s reputation and reverse public opinion.
  18. The Cape Doctor, by E. J. Levy, is inspired by the life of Dr. James Barry (born Margaret Anne Bulkley), who performed the first recorded Caesarean delivery. In the book, the “character” is Dr. James Miranda Perry. The author notes that she changed the name simply to underscore that the book is fiction. Barry lived as a man in both public and private life, at least in part to be accepted as a university student, and to pursue a career as a surgeon. SPOILER ALERT: The same is true of Perry. Barry’s biological sex became known to the public and to military colleagues only after an autopsy, which also seemed to show pregnancy stretch marks, suggesting Barry had given birth at some point. The details of Barry’s life align closely with the story of the book’s protagonist. After entering the military, Barry was posted to Cape Town, South Africa, in 1816. Barry had a letter of introduction to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor General Lord Charles Somerset. In real life, Barry had a close relationship with Somerset and was considered part of his family. In the novelization, for Perry, the relationship with Somerset becomes something more. Somerset discovers Perry’s true gender, and they become lovers, Perry’s alleged pregnancy is thus explained as a result of this affair. Barry (and Perry) live another 30 years after Somerton’s death, but Levy devotes only 1:47 minutes to those years. I enjoyed the novel, especially how closely it hewed to the truth.
  19. The Good Left Undone, by Adriana Trigiani. Trigiani may just be my current favorite author, and her 2022 novel does not disappoint. I strongly agree with the description in one review – that The Good Left Undone is an “immersive saga.” I would slightly amend that to an “immersive family saga.” I believe this is her only novel in which the US plays virtually no part; the story is set in Italy, Scotland, and France. The centerpiece is Domenica, a nurse who comes of age as facism is growing in Italy, and Europe is moving toward war. Domenica is temporarily banished from her beloved family and Italy when a kindness she offers a patient offends the Catholic church. Her return to her homeland is significantly delayed by the onset of WWII, and the reader (this reader anyway) gains insight into the shabby treatment Italians in other countries received during the time. In a current-day storyline, Domenica’s story is rediscovered, and her influence felt on her descendants. Trigiani’s writing and storytelling are top notch; a shipwreck scene is especially gripping. As an aside, I am reasonably sure the author has produced no novel that fails to mention Golden-Age movie star Myrna Loy, and this one is no exception. I had a heartwarming exchange with Trigiani on Facebook over this quirk. The first book I read of hers, All the Stars in the Heavens was an “old Hollywood” tale and remains my favorite of hers. I hope she someday features Loy in an “old Hollywood” story.
  20. Scarlet Feather, by Maeve Binchy. The late Irish author Maeve Binchy was one of my mother’s favorite authors, and I always had the sense I would also enjoy her writing. My first dip into Binchy’s extensive oeuvre affirmed my hunch. Binchy plunges us (or at least me) into a world we don’t want to leave, even though it’s about everyday family life. Sure, this world features twists and turns and conflict, and it’s engaging and enjoyable. Because the book is relatively lengthy, we can spend a good long, satisfying time in that world. At the center of Scarlet Feather are a male and female pair of partners in a Dublin catering business; they were once romantic partners but have each gone on to new loves. A set of neglected 9-year-old twins also play a large role and evoke empathy. Binchy left about 20 novels when she died in 2012; I know I’ll be reading more of them.
  21. Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain. Cain’s writing – and this 1941 novel – are described as “hardboiled,” but I’m not really sure what that means. One blogger (Eric McMillan) characterizes “hard-boiled” as consisting of “tough protagonists in cynical works suited to film-noir adaptation.” McMillan also cites Mildred as a great example of social realism. Mildred Pierce is a quintessential novel of the Depression and a rare-for-its-time story of a woman achieving economic success, especially as a single mom. The novel includes a fair amount of social commentary about gender roles, the end of Prohibition, unwed pregnancy, politics (Mildred is an FDR fan), and more. I’ve never seen the the 1945 Joan Crawford film made from the novel, but I did see the 2011 mini-series with Kate Winslet. I enjoyed the plucky-entrepreneur aspects of the story but felt unsettled by the coarse and nasty verbal bouts Mildred had with her boyfriend and her cold, cruel daughter. Many reactions, conversations, and behaviors were likely normal for their times but seem off-kilter today. In any era, it would be hard to understand Mildred’s obsession with her rotten daughter.
  22. The Social Graces, by Renee Rosen. This historical novel about late-19th century New York society aligns nicely with my viewing of “The Gilded Age” (which I LOVED) on HBO, and covers many of the same historical figures and time period (1880s). While the narrative aspects of the novel are not that strong (better toward the end), I find myself fascinated by the social mores of that time and the clash between old money and the nouveau riche. Rosen tells a version of a story presented in “The Gilded Age” (Wikipedia calls it an “oft-repeated story”) in which queen of New York society Mrs. Astor must humble herself to get her daughter invited to a ball put on by new-money rival Alva Vanderbilt, suggesting that the Mr. and Mrs. Russell characters in “The Gilded Age” are modeled on the Vanderbilts (one source suggests they are instead modeled on Jay Gould and his wife; see my entry below, The Vanderbilts, under Nonfiction, which affirmed for me that the Russells are indeed modeled on Alva and William K. Vanderbilt). If they are modeled on the Vanderbilts, why not just make them the Vanderbilts in the series since many other characters are real people? Possibly because the writers needed the Russells to have adult children for romantic and dramatic purposes; the Vanderbilt offspring at this time were young children. I had read and liked Rosen’s previous novel, Park Avenue Summer, set in a much more contemporary historical period, the early 1960s. It’s possible Rosen’s storytelling was more restricted in The Social Graces because she was working with many more real historical figures; the only one I recall from Park Avenue Summer was Helen Gurley Brown, as the protagonist worked at Cosmopolitan.
  23. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire. I bought a hard copy of Wicked many years ago (it was published in 1995). I want to say the purchase was inspired by my fascination with the Broadway musical adaptation of the book, but it might have pre-dated that fascination. By the way, I’ve never seen the musical, although I felt going into reading the book that I knew a little about the story, much of my knowledge springing from a concert version of the musical on PBS. In any case, I had resisted reading the book all these years because I don’t actually like fantasy. As I started the book, my resistance felt justified. Though I didn’t expect it to be a children’s story, I was a bit surprised by how adult it is. Its Audible narrator, though, reads it in the manner of a children’s story. His slow pace can feel tedious, but it probably helped me follow the story. I’m glad I checked it off my list, but it’s really not my kind of book.
  24. Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton. This book was my first dual-timeline historical novel of 2022 – a genre I have consumed many times. The 1959 timeline features a young woman in revolutionary Cuba who falls in love with a man whose political views and activism are contrary to her family’s. The 2017 timeline focuses on her granddaughter, who goes to Cuba to scatter her grandmother’s ashes. I don’t know a whole lot about Cuba, so the book was interesting on the level of boosting my knowledge, and it was significantly boosted by a plethora of information and perspectives on both the revolutionary and more contemporary periods. I also enjoyed the storylines, which included a twist. This book is the first in a trilogy, and I can see myself reading the other two.
  25. Wideacre, by Phillipa Gregory. Gregory, who shares my birth year, has been on my radar for possible reading for quite a while. She is perhaps best known for her historical novels involving real historical figures of the British Pantangenet and Tudor periods. Virtually all of her novels are historical, but some, like Wideacre, don’t involve real people. I’ve spent a great deal of reading time, both in fiction and nonfiction, in the 19th century, so this dip into the 18th felt new (I, Eliza Hamilton notwithstanding). I believe this was also Gregory’s first novel (1987). The central character is Beatrice, who loves to work the land around her ancestral home, Wideacre, with her father, while her sickly, indoorsy brother hangs out with their mother, reading and writing. Beatrice is absolutely incredulous to realize as a young girl it is her pathetic brother who will inherit Wideacre (of course), and the plot centers around her nefarious and taboo efforts to keep it for herself. It’s a deft author who has readers rooting for evil characters, and we (or at least I) do, though that support wanes as Beatrice’s extreme efforts to ensure her heir inherits Wideacre – disguised as “modern farming practices” – bring about desperation and suffering on the tenants and villagers who depend on Wideacre. Since the long (26 hours) novel doesn’t involve well-known historical figures, the historical learning comes from such topics as those farming practices, the entailment tradition that kept women from ever owning property, and the relationship between wealthy landowners and those who depend on them. I was thoroughly engaged in Gregory’s storytelling for the duration. I wasn’t in love with the ending, especially its use of a literary device I dislike [*SPOILER ALERT: scroll down to end of reviews], but it’s hard to imagine a more logical way for it to end.Wideacre is the first in a trilogy I will likely read, if not some of Gregory’s other books. The audio version gives a tantalizing snippet of the beginning of the next book in the series.
  26. Her Hidden Genius, by Marie Benedict. More historical fiction, this time about scientist Rosalind Franklin and her work with DNA. I’d previously read and liked Benedict’s historical fiction about Hedy Lamarr. This book, written in the present tense I despise, not surprisingly offers plenty of misogyny, gender discrimination, toxic workplaces, and men who steal the work of women and take credit. It also features big doses of scientific competition, backbiting, and espionage. The three scientists who won the Nobel Prize for DNA discoveries probably attributable to Franklin – Watson, Crick, and especially Wilkins – do not come off well here. Some exposition of biographical detail comes off a bit phony in Her Hidden Genius.
  27. The Latecomer, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Two (Admission and The Plot) of the three previous Korelitz books I’ve read have been on my list of favorites of the years I read them. The third (You Should Have Known) was forgettable, except I remember not liking it much. She’s published seven; though the four I haven’t read don’t seem to have gotten much attention, I’m tempted to read them as I am drawn to Korelitz’s witty and relatable writing style. The Latecomer contains significant nods to topics of earlier books, touching on the college admissions scene and college life (The Devil and Webster and The White Rose, two I haven’t read). I was absorbed in The Latecomer, essentially a dysfunctional-family saga, though I felt like it took a very long time for the titular latecomer to appear (though she is also the narrator) and even longer for her to be pivotal to the plot. The portion prior to her emergence was a bit over-long and draggy, but the final third of the book was quite satisfying. Some readers probably don’t appreciate when all storylines are tied up in a nice bow at the end, but I do. Narrated by the brilliant Julia Whelan.
  28. In Big Trouble, by Laura Lippman. I really thought I had read almost all of Laura Lippman’s novels, especially those from the series featuring Baltimore-based reporter-turned-private-investigator Tess Monaghan. Audible, however, did not identify the book as being in my library, and if I did read it before, I don’t remember it. I found it fun to revisit the characters that had sustained me through her 10 other Tess Monaghan books in the mid-teens of this century. In Big Trouble was published at the end of the last century (1999), and it did feel a bit dated (not much cell-phone use, mentions of Netscape and AOL). One familiar “character” from the series was notably missing – the city of Baltimore – as this entry was set mostly in San Antonio, where Tess has traveled to check up on her ex-boyfriend, whom she has reason to believe is “in big trouble.” I enjoyed the “wink, wink” references to the 90s TV show “Homicide: Life on the Street,” which was based on a book by Lippman’s husband, David Simon, who was also a writer on the show (mere significant others at the time of this book’s publication). While Tess has made brief appearances in some of Lippman’s later books, the series seems to have ended in 2011. I recommend the series (and some of Lippman’s other books) to those who like engaging detective stories.
  29. Unnatural Causes, by Dawn Eastman. This novel, about a doctor who investigates when one of her patients seems to commit suicide, has a Lifetime/Hallmark movie vibe to it. I found it an enjoyable if unremarkable read. This book came from Audible’s PLUS collection, the vast majority of which are books that are part of a series. PLUS books are free to members who hold certain kinds of memberships, and I think part of the marketing approach is to lure members into these series so they will buy future volumes in the series after getting a free taste. Unnatural Causes is the first in a series. I wouldn’t object to reading further volumes, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way.
  30. The Wages of Sin, by Kaite Walsh. Back-to-back novels about female doctors are part of a mini-trend of reading books about female docs this year. While the preceding entry, Unnatural Causes was contemporary, The Wages of Sin is set in 1892 and bears some resemblance to the based-on-a-true-story The Cape Doctor, set quite a bit earlier in the 19th century. It also bears a resemblance to Unnatural Causes in that both doctor protagonists investigate mysterious deaths. Wages of Sin did not draw me in especially well, though that might have been related to having a lot going on while I was reading it.
  31. Lies She Told, by Cate Holahan. Lies She Told is two novels in one, a premise that is both clever and confusing. Protagonist Liza is a writer of suspense novels whose latest book unfolds in parallel with her own story, which increasingly comes to mirror the novel she’s writing. Neither story was all that engaging, although Liza’s story got a little more interesting toward the end.
  32. The Talented Miss Farwell, by Emily Gray Tedrowe. This novel has the distinction of being the first audiobook I’ve consumed outside the Audible platform. I read it on the Glose app, through which I get a free audiobook each month from the Wall Street Journal, which in turn I get free through the college at which I teach (pretty good app; I like its simplicity). I like novels whose premise is out of the ordinary. This book qualifies; in a nutshell, it’s about a young woman, the titular Miss Farwell, who regularly embezzles from her city-government job to finance her art-collecting obsession. This plot reminded me of an earlier book on this list, What Was Mine, in that both protagonists committed utterly heinous acts that deeply hurt other people. As mentioned in my review of What Was Mine above, I had a tiny bit of sympathy for that character because at least she was trying to fill a hole in her life, while Miss Farwell is essentially just greedy. Citizens suffer, and the town careens toward bankruptcy, as she keeps stealing. One odd moment in the book: The author mentions that the embezzler put down a book she was reading – and goes to the trouble of revealing the name and author of the book: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, which just happens to be a book I loathed. Just seemed so weird to be so specific about the book when it had nothing to with anything. Although I appreciated the unusual subject matter of The Talented Miss Farwell, the point of it all is about as mysterious as the random mention of Wolf Hall.
  33. Woman on Fire, by Lisa Barr. Another novel based in the art world and another historical novel. The overall subject of this story is art theft from Jews by Nazis. While small pieces are set in the the pre-WWII period, the bulk of it deals with the the modern-day provenance of a particular work, which shares its title with the title of the book. Two women – one a journalist, the other an evil art dealer, helm angel vs. devil sides of the story. I’m not sure why I had trouble engaging with the novel. Could have been because the narrator used several weird accents. As is often the case, I got more into it toward the end.
  34. Waking Nightmare: The Mindhunters, by Kylie Brant. This is a police procedural/thriller about the investigation of a serial rapist, featuring a male traditional investigator and female forensic psychologist. It’s narrated by Bronson Pinchot, whose narration I hadn’t heard in at least 10 years. I believe he has a very good reputation as a narrator, though I found him a bit on the flat side, and he’s not great at female voices. It’s been a while since I read a really torrid sex scene, and the sex descriptors in this novel are so over the top, they made me chuckle. The twist was good and one I did not see coming, but I’d have to say the steamy/comical sex scenes were the highlight of this book. The author was in love with the phrase, “he snaked his arm around her waist.”
  35. The Anatomist’s Apprentice, by Tessa Harris. This novel hit several mini-themes in my 2022 reading – doctor protagonist (albeit male), historical fiction, 18th-century setting. Narrator is Simon Vance, whom I’ve enjoyed before. Yet another book that grew on me; enjoyed it much more in the last third.
  36. Fellowship Point, by Alice Elliott Dark. Several aspects of this enjoyable novel resonated with me – aging women, a writer, Philadelphia (the closest city to me in my youth), Maine, (where my sister and family have lived for decades and I’ve visited a few times), Quakerism (my ancestors were Quakers, and I went to a Quaker school for two years), the quest to preserve natural lands from development, heart-tugging dog anecdotes. The Quakerism even includes “thee” and “thou” language exchanged by two of the main characters, women in their 80s. Set in the early part of the current century, it’s not a heavily plotted novel – almost more a series of slices of life. Its style reminded me a bit of Maeve Binchy’s Scarlet Feather, above on this list. I found it well-written and engaging, though the storyline involving a third and younger character was not as absorbing. A guy in the book club I used to belong to hated books with preposterous coincidences. My feelings about them aren’t quite as strong, but an otherwise excellent book was a bit marred by such a coincidence. Another Cassandra Campbell narration.
  37. A Woman of Endurance, by Dahlma Llano-Figueroa. One of my reading themes over the past few years has been enslaved women, and this historical novel introduces me to an unexplored slavery venue, Puerto Rico. Like all books of its genre, it was full of inhumanity and unspeakable cruelty. After being captured in Africa, Kira (who becomes Pola), is turned into essentially a broodmare, incubating future slaves. I appreciated the new piece of learning about slavery outside the traditional American South and that the story featured strong, resilient women; I didn’t like the fact that the book was written in present tense.
  38. Carrie Soto is Back, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Reid is among my favorite authors who have put out a new book almost annually; beginning in 2013, 2020 was the only year Reid skipped. As I’ve reported on these lists before, I’ve read all her books except one that’s kind of a parallel-universes story (I don’t like speculative, supernatural stuff); 2017’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was not only my favorite book of the year I read it, but one of my favorite books ever. I didn’t realize till I read an interview with Reid that the character Carrie Soto had made an appearance in last year’s Reid offering, Malibu Rising (two-thirds of which I greatly enjoyed). Before I read Carrie Soto, set in the tennis world, I read a blog post that ranked Reid’s books and ranked Soto lower than many of her books. I have to say that, since I don’t follow tennis, the large part of the story devoted to game-play was not all that interesting to me. The story focuses on the title character’s question to return to competition a decade after her retirement for the explicit purpose of not allowing an up-and-comer to exceed her record as the winningest player in tennis (as an aside, I happened to be reading this at the time Serena Williams was playing in what may or may not be her final match). It exists in a disconcerting universe that meshes real history with fiction. Most of the tennis players in the story are made up; a few names from before Carrie’s era, such as Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and Billie Jean King are mentioned. In my recollection, Reid handled this meshing more deftly in Evelyn Hugo, in which a number of characters were fictional, but many real stars of the 40s and 50s also populated the story. Narrated by a large case of narrators; between the main narrator’s attempt at male voices and her take on a Spanish accent that sounds a bit too much like “say hello to my leetle friend,” I was a bit annoyed.
  39. An Imperfect Plan, by Addison McKnight. This novel tells the rather dismal tales of two not especially likable women, both of whom have moral shortcomings. Themes include infertility, addiction, dishonesty, and bad parenting. While the author did not include humor, uplift, or much of anything that made me root for either of the characters, the stories had just enough juice to keep me hanging on to find out what happens. The two women’s storylines are separate, but hints are dropped suggesting they will converge at some point, and a little past the halfway point (which seemed like too long), they begin to. Because the stories were just not especially pleasant, I wished the book had been shorter; it seemed like too much time to spend with characters I didn’t care about. I’ve always liked moral shades of gray, which this novel certainly has. This book was also the third book I read this year that culminated in a highly improbable coincidence – just another reason not to love this novel.
  40. Bloomsbury Girls, by Natalie Jenner. I had a false start with this historical novel as I couldn’t get into it at first. My problem may have been taking the “girls” of the title a bit too literally. I think I was expecting the book to be similar to Dear Mrs. Bird, above and featuring bubbly young British women and close-knit friendships. The Bloomsbury “Girls” are three women working in a London bookstore in the post-WWII period; only one of them comes anywhere near eligibility as a “girl” – she’s just out of university. Two of the three have a workplace friendship. Strong feminist threads run through the novel, not only concerning how the women are treated in the bookstore but how the bookstore treats women authors (books by women are not sold in the store unless they are big sellers). The new university grad champions forgotten 18th-century women writers, and is on a quest to find a copy of the real book, The Mummy, by Jane Wells Webb Loudon, written when the author was 17 and considered a ground-breaking early example of science fiction. I liked the book a lot on my second try. Other real women featured included the widow of George Orwell, art collector Peggy Guggenheim, and especially, Daphne DuMaurier, who makes numerous appearances (I’m a DuMaurier fan and have read a few of her books). The novel also ended on a very satisfying note.
  41. Cape May, by Chip Cheek. I was attracted to this novel because I grew up in New Jersey and spent significant time at the Jersey Shore. I’ve been to Cape May (apparently America’s oldest beach resort) just once, when my musician “Starter Husband” played a gig there. I recall going to a rather upscale restaurant and having some sort of conflict – probably with Starter Husband over not being able to afford it. Anyway, the book also pressed my “set in the 1950s” button. The story, involving newlyweds, contains a number of sex scenes, which according to the description are supposed to be erotic, but with their folksy reading by the narrator, actor George Newbern, don’t seem so. I enjoyed Cape May and Newbern’s narration; I’ll be looking for more books he’s narrated. Up until the conclusion of the book, the lessons gleaned might be “sex ruins your life” or “all men are cheating bastards,” but the end dampens those judgments.
  42. The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman. This murder mystery has a cute premise – a group of elders living in a retirement community who’ve formed a club in which they discuss true crime stumble across a real murder to solve. I found it a little silly and packed with British humor – which for me just took up space and detracted from the murder mystery.
  43. A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice, by Rebecca Connelly. This interesting piece of historical fiction tells the story of the Titanic sinking from the perspective of Two protagonists – the captain of the Carpathia, the ship that answered Titanic’s distress call, rushed to the scene, and rescued 705 survivors and Kate Connelly, one of those survivors. I thought it likely that the Kate character and others who traveled with her in steerage were made up, but in fact they were real, and the author clearly conducted thorough research, changing scant few facts for fictional purposes. She hewed perhaps a bit to closely to the facts; while absorbing, the story needed more conflict and/or a bad guy. The White Star owner, Bruce Ismay, who did not go down with the ship was the best the author could come up with as a bad guy. And the press, who pestered the Carpathia captain to release survivor details before families were notified created mild conflict.
  44. The 11th Man, by Ivan Doig. Those following these lists may recall that I’ve read a number of the late Doig’s books and that I probably would never have gravitated to them had it not been for the local book club I once belonged to. Most are about life in the Northwest, especially Montana, and often set in frontier times or somewhere else in the past. They typically have male protagonists, though Doig does a credible job with female supporting characters. The 11th Man ticks all these boxes, but also focuses on a couple areas in which I have almost zero interest – football and war/military. Set in WWII, the book is almost more like connected stories than a book with real narrative flow. It involves the members of a legendary pre-war college football team and their fates during the war. It’s primarily told from the perspective of Ben Reinking, who is both a soldier and war reporter. Although The 11th Man is far from my favorite Doig, it does offer a moderately compelling romantic storyline, and most importantly, Doig’s stellar writing.
  45. Thank You for Listening, by Julia Whelan. Whelan, whose TV acting I enjoyed in the 90s, has narrated dozens and dozens of audiobooks, many of which I’ve listened to; she is probably my favorite narrator. In finishing Thank You for Listening, I’ve now also read both books she’s written. It’s also the first audiobook I recall that has garnered a full 5-star rating from listeners; the highest is usually 4.5. The book stars, amazingly enough, an audiobook narrator who eschews romance narration but is lured into a romance project in collaboration with an intriguing male narrator. An interesting side benefit of this novel was learning more about how audiobook narrators prepare for their work. Whelan is an enormously entertaining writer, with the writing only enhanced by her own narration (it’s intriguing to imagine her writing the book knowing she’ll be narrating it). With this reading, preposterous coincidences are officially a 2022 trend, and the wild (yet somewhat predictable) coincidence in Whelan’s book is the only thing that kept it from being perfect.
  46. More Than You’ll Ever Know, by Katie Gutierrez. Another entry supporting this year’s trend of reading about Latin-X characters. More Thank You’ll Ever Know is not exactly historical fiction (I refuse to think of a 1980s setting as historical), but its dual-timeline format reminds me of many of the recent historical-fiction novels in which a more-or-less contemporary (2017 in this case) character (always a woman, in my experience) becomes embroiled in a story from the past. This story centers on a woman who commits bigamy in the 80s and then experiences the murder of the more recent husband by the original husband (or so it seems). The 2017 timeline concerns a young woman true-crime writer who becomes obsessed with the bigamist’s case. I found it an absorbing read. Some readers reviewing this book complained about how much Spanish was in it, but I didn’t find the Spanish overbearing at all. Most of it was easy to understand from the context. The author did use “cuates” hundreds of times; apparently it is a slang term for”twins” that should be used only by native Mexicans.
  47. Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver. Several things make me happy about Kingsolver’s latest. (1) She doesn’t narrate it herself as she has many of her past books. She’s not a terrible narrator, but she’s not stellar either. (2) Kingsolver, like Ann Patchett and, I’m sure a few other writers I read regularly, isn’t predictable; there’s no sameness to her books. They are all very different from each and based on innovative premises. (3) The style of the book (also very different from her previous books) is very folksy (or at least a trashy 90s version of folksy); it reminds me of Ivan Doig’s style. (4) The spectacular narration, by Charlie Thurston, fits the trashy-folksy style perfectly. (5) The book is loosely inspired by David Copperfield (which I haven’t read, but I do like Dickens). I decided I had to read a synopsis of the David Copperfield plot, and it’s quite similar to Demon Copperhead, right down to the character names – thus not as loosely based as I had thought. Demon Copperhead could be described as “David Copperfield wrapped in the opioid crisis.” One thing’s for sure; David Copperfield will be on my 2023 list.
  48. Habits of the House, by Fay Weldon. This novel takes place in 1899 and involves a wealthy aristocratic family that goes broke when a goldmine-investment sours. The solution to their money woes is for the son to marry a rich American, even though his kept courtesan tickles his fancy more. Weldon originated the “Upstairs, Downstairs” TV series, and the downstairs folk working for this family play a role here, though not as pronounced as in the series. Habits of the House is the first part of a trilogy, but I don’t think it knocked my socks off enough for me to partake in the subsequent volumes.
  49. The Charm Bracelet, by Viola Shipman. I often gravitate toward grit, but sometimes it’s nice to read a sappy family story. The Charm Bracelet is quite sappy, but not unpleasantly so. Four generations of women link charms on their bracelets to life lessons.
  50. The Lies I Tell, by Julie Clark. A former journalist is on a mission to expose a con woman she feels has wronged her, but when she finally gets close enough to have hope of doing so, she learns there may be more to the con’s misdeeds than meets the eye. Good storytelling in this novel and a satisfying ending. My only quibble is that that the wrong the con woman perpetrated on the ex-journalist seemed out of proportion with how deeply the journalist felt it, a point the journalist acknowledges somewhat at the end.
  51. If Today Be Sweet, by Thrity Umrigar. This is a heartwarming family story in a genre I explore every year – tales of Indian and Indian-American women (also represented by The Parted Earth, read earlier this year). It’s also the fourth book by Umrigar I’ve read. In this one, a recently widowed woman around the same age I am must decide whether to continue staying with her son and his family in the US or return to her home in India. It’s well narrated by Jeed Saddy, who demonstrates significant vocal variety, as well as the ability voice multiple characters and handle a range of accents.
  52. Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. Brooks deftly weaves multiple timelines in service of various aspects of the story of 19th-century racehorse Lexington. The most poignant of these is the saga of the enslaved young black man who trained the horse. While this character existed historically, nothing was known about him, so Brooks crafted his story, integrating known stories of other enslaved 19th-century horsemen. The theme of racism is strong in the book, both in the 19th- and 21st-century timelines. Brooks brings out how – like so many other aspects of capitalism – the popularity and wealth associated with the 19-century horse-racing business were built on the backs of enslaved people. The timelines come nicely together, and Covid makes an appearance toward the end.
  53. Sea of Tranquility, by Emily Mandel. I will admit I chose the final two books on my fiction list for their relatively short length so I could reach my goal of 75 books for the year, but both got rave reviews from friends, and Sea of Tranquility was positively rapturously reviewed by one friend. Had it not been so well reviewed, I probably would not have read this book; because I pay a fixed monthly price for my Audible subscription, I gravitate to the better value of longer books. And among Sea of Tranquility‘s multiple timelines, two are in the future, and I dislike futuristic books. Moments from past timelines bleed into future scenarios and time travel (another of my dislikes) occurs; it’s interesting to note the author envisions things like bookstores, cupcakes, spare change, and (sadly) pandemics existing 200 years hence. Sea of Tranquility is well written, and individual vignettes are engaging, but it’s not really my style of book.
  54. Matrix, by Lauren Goff. This piece of historical fiction, highly touted by a couple Facebook friends and appearing on Barack Obama’s 2021 favorite-books list, is set in the 12th century. Marie, age 17, is cast out of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court and sent to a declining English abbey full of nuns to be its new prioress. Goff ages Marie quite rapidly, and she goes from not especially spiritual to having visions of the Virgin Mary. She also discovers the pleasures of the flesh; her enabler convinces her orgasms are no more than a needed physical release. The author writes in present tense, which I dislike, and her style has been compared to that of the late Hilary Mantel, whose work, as noted under Book No. 32 above, I detest. Matrix has some powerful moments, and I do appreciate stories of strong women. but I wasn’t in love with the book.
  55. Sister Stardust, by Jane Green. I liked my final book of 2022 more then I thought I would. It’s mostly set in the swinging sixties in London and Marrakesh and is about a real person, Talitha Getty, second wife of John Paul Getty, as seen through the eyes of fictional protagonist Claire, a.k.a., CC. I usually find content written about eras I actually lived through to be cliched and generalized, but the descriptions of these times felt very real in Sister Stardust. I was engaged in the the story.

Favorites in Non-Fiction


56.The President and the Assassin, by Scott Miller. I’d long wanted to read a biography of McKinley as I knew very little about him. While perhaps McKinley’s successor, Teddy Roosevelt, was the first true 20th-century president, McKinley certainly ushered in the century in which I was born. I still want to read a straight bio of McKinley, instead of just one focusing on his assassination, but all those available on audio are rather short, and I prefer to get better value for my Audible credits by consuming longer books (resulting, however, in a rather sluggish start to my 2022 reading). Plus, I was interested in learning more about his assassination as I knew as little about it as I did about the man himself. As it turns out, I may not have learned a lot about McKinley’s pre-presidential life, but I did learn a lot about his presidency and general US history as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. I had known very little about the Spanish-American War, for example. Every time I read US history, I am struck by the many aspects that are still the same. Gun violence. Political gridlock. Racism. Nationalism. One very striking McKinley characteristic was how exceedingly uxorious he was; his wife was the centerpiece of his life. Not long before his murder, McKinley went on a THREE-MONTH working vacation; can you imagine a president today doing so?

57. The Last Leonardo, By Ben Lewis. The title work is Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the recently discovered masterpiece that sold for a staggering $450 million and the quest to verify its authenticity. The book was quite interesting in its discussion of preparation and painting techniques from Leonardo’s time, as well as latter-day restoration, attribution, and authentication methods. The author offered a fair amount on biographical detail on Leonardo, but I found I had the opposite reaction from the preceding McKinley book. I would have preferred the book to focus solely on the Salvator Mundi and leave biography to others, as it dragged when not about the painting. The book also dragged when detailing the provenance (ownership) of the painting over the centuries, especially into the 21st century with various ownership machinations and legal wranglings. I almost quit the book toward the end, but I stuck it out. The real kicker of the book is that the painting sold for $450 million, but still has not been 100 percent proven to be a Leonardo. Almost immediately after I finished reading it, I watched the similarly titled documentary, “The Lost Leonardo,” which mostly covered the provenance issue. The woman who did the restoration work on the painting noted that there’s no way to ever know for sure.

58. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies, by J.B. West. This was actually a re-read for me, yet I feel, a legitimate part of my current list because of how long ago I read. In my memory of reading it, I was about 12, and I came across the book at some point when I wasn’t at home. However, I must’ve been older than that, in fact, past high school, as it was published in 1973. I still believe I read it at a place other than home. West was an usher from 1941 to 1969, spanning the latter part of FDR’s administration up to a tiny slice of the beginning of Richard Nixon’s. I really enjoyed the book back then and just as much today, although I would have liked the Audible narrator to have a little more lighthearted delivery. He sounded a bit too dour and had some odd pronunciations, such as Jack-a-Leen for Jackie Kennedy. Initially, I felt a vibe that the Kennedys were not the author’s favorite White House occupants, but by the end of that chapter, he seemed much more sympathetic toward Jackie. West is tasteful and restrained in the more gossipy elements of presidential life. Apparently, the Kennedys were into afternoon delight. The Trumans broke the bed slats.

59. The Movie Musical, by Jeanine Basinger. I feared this tome, 24 hours on audio, would be a slog as fat histories sometimes are. It benefits, however, from a sassy writing style (the publisher’s notes rightly call it “wit and zest”) enhanced by vocal variety from an equally sassy, zesty narrator. It’s also not a straight history of movie musicals, as I later realized, since it takes side trips, such as a chapter on big-box-office stars of their respective eras – starting with Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley, and including many others. Basinger includes plenty of incisive analysis. This woman knows her musicals; I marvel at how many thousands of hours she had to have spent to be as widely knowledgeable as the book suggests. I wish I had thought to write down each title as she discussed it so I could check some of them out on Turner Classic Movies. Basinger’s premise is that the ongoing dilemma of movie musicals is how they handle the unrealistic concept of people bursting into song and dance. Musicals have been declared dead at numerous times, but if they handle the unreal concept well, they can succeed. The book is really quite well done.

60. Seven Days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton. This well-written and informative book devotes a day/chapter each to auctions, student-art critiques, art fairs, art prizes, art magazines, studio visits, and The Venice Biennale. Some chapters were more accessible than others, but overall, I enjoyed the book. I’d love to know what’s changed in the art world since the book was researched (2004-2007) and written (audio edition was in 2014, but I suspect print editions were around 2008). I almost had a Tavia Gilbert narration/art world double-feature, but had a book between this one and the fiction-set-in-the-art-world of Still Lives.

61. Emergency in Slow Motion, by William Todd Schulz. This self-proclaimed “psycho-biography” of photographer Diane Arbus got off on the wrong foot for me, or at least the narrator did, by pronouncing the artist’s first name in the traditional DYE-Ann way, instead of DEE-Ann. The author references this pronunciation dichotomy but suggests that the choice of which way to pronounce it was made by those who addressed Arbus rather than Arbus herself (or perhaps her parents). Whatever source imbued in me the DEE-Ann pronunciation – either Patricia Boswell’s 1984 bio of Arbus or my beloved art-history professor Roberta Favis – I became convinced the correct pronunciation, the one Arbus preferred, is DEE-Ann. I am probably especially sensitive to the issue because my stepmother was also a Diane pronounced DEE-Ann. While not totally unusual, the narration by a woman of a book written by man was a tad disconcerting; the choice was probably made because the subject is female. While most biographies seem to strive for objectivity, it seems to me that most biographers hold at least some admiration for their subjects. I’m not sure that’s true of Schulz, whose psycho-biography of Arbus makes her seem pretty messed up, albeit as the result of a seemingly loveless childhood. Naturally, he uses psychology to explain Arbus’s artistic intent behind her photographs. In a nutshell, Schulz believes, Arbus’s photos say little about their subjects and everything about Arbus. He also spends quite a lot of time dissecting her suicide. It all feels a bit harsh, and even bordering on misogynistic. Not a particularly pleasant read.

62. Failure Is Not an Option, by Gene Kranz. This memoir was the first book of 2022 to fall into the category of what I call “comforting narratives,” topics I read over and over again even though I already know a lot about them. In this case, it’s the US space program, of which Kranz was Flight Director at a pivotal time, during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Kranz was an engineer, so he includes a significant amount of very technical material that pretty much went over my head and didn’t interest me that much. I more enjoyed the people aspects of the story. Did I learn anything new? A few conflicts between astronauts and between astronauts and mission-control people. I didn’t recall before having heard about how sad Ed White was to go back to the capsule after the first American space walk. Some interesting insight about leadership and teamwork, especially during the Apollo 13 crisis (which never gets old for me). Talk about working remotely! These guys were pioneers. Given the length of the book and percentage of wonkiness, much was tedious, but I don’t regret reading it. The narrator made me a little crazy by pronouncing “rendezvous” with the accent on “vous.” Kranz concludes the memoir with eloquent words about the US abandonment of space exploration. The book was published in 1999 and Kranz is still living; I wonder if he sees any improvement in the situation today.

63. The Vanderbilts, by Jerry E. Patterson. I was inspired to read this nonfiction account after the reading the novel, The Social Graces (above), one of whose two protagonists was Alva Vanderbilt. Patterson’s short, straightforward family history brought me up to speed, enhanced my “gilded age” knowledge, and affirmed that the Vanderbilts were surely the models for the fictional Russell’s in HBO’s “The Gilded Age” series. Patterson also provides details of Vanderbilt businesses, mansions and their architecture, art collections, and other cultural tidbits.

64. Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson, by William Hazelgrove. Before I read Scott Berg’s biography of Woodrow Wilson, I held a vague sense of admiration for Wilson, probably because he had been an academic, governor of my birth state of New Jersey, and a Democrat. Any admiration, however, was crushed after I learned via Berg’s book what a racist Wilson was and that he didn’t support women’s suffrage at the federal level (neither did Edith apparently). Still, I was intrigued by the two-year period after Wilson’s stroke in 1919 when his second wife Edith took over many of his duties. Most historians and biographers stop short of declaring that Edith was the first woman president of the United States in this capacity, but as is obvious from his title, Hazelgrove’s premise is just that. This book was more interesting than I was expecting, with discussions of the Constitutionality of what Edith did, the importance of prepared and willing vice presidents, and Wilson as a huge romantic with a strong sex drive. Having read Candice Millard’s excellent Destiny of the Republic, I also appreciated Hazelgrove’s comparison of the Wilson situation to what happened with James Garfield. Hazelgrove posits that Garfield’s idiot doctor and Edith Wilson played similar roles. Both presidents also had vice presidents who were terrified of stepping into the Chief Executive role.

65. Greentown, by Timothy Dumas. First dip into true crime this year is the story of the 1975 Martha Moxley murder and the investigation thereof. The author’s level of descriptive detail is notable. One thing I learned from it is that I dislike use of present tense in nonfiction as much as I do in fiction. The book seems to have a lot of filler; do we really need to know the history of crime in Greenwich, CT, where the murder occurred, or the history of the polygraph machine? The author also spends too much time on leads that go nowhere. He goes into great detail (including bio info) about a famous forensic scientist who contributed virtually nothing to the investigation. This one just didn’t draw me in the way most true-crime books do. And I must have missed the reason behind the title; another name for Greenwich?

66. Emotional Inheritance, by Galit Atlas. I sought out this book when I heard about it because I was hoping it would be similar to one of my favorite books from last year (about the devastating effects of childhood trauma and how a therapist treats those effects), Good Morning, Monster. Emotional Inheritance does bear some similarity but presents an interesting additional premise to the childhood trauma equation – the idea that we live through not only our own traumas but are imprinted with (via consciousness) and influenced by our parents’, and even our grandparents’ traumas (hence the “inheritance”). This idea sounds kind of “woo-woo,” but the psychological underpinnings Atlas provides are reasonably convincing. Where the author of Good Morning, Monster devoted a full chapter to each case (as well as discussed her therapeutic process, including mistakes she made), Atlas presents several cases centering on the thematic areas of trauma that comes from grandparents, parents, and our own lives. She touches only fleetingly on her therapeutic process. The audiobook is self-narrated, and the author speaks incredibly slowly, a plus for me at times so I can absorb the material, but also sometimes tedious.

67. Sleep, My Child, Forever, by John Coston. True crime about Ellen Boehm, who murdered two of her children and attempted to kill a third in the 1980s. I’ve begun to notice a sort of “lower tier” of true-crime books that are written and delivered in a very dry, “just the facts, m’am” fashion, and this one falls into that category. It’s difficult to describe the difference between the style of this tier, but top-tier books, for example, would be those of the late Ann Rule. As with other entries on this list, storytelling was deficient. The narration was also quite dry. A “meh” from me.

68. Finding Me, by Viola Davis. I was quite excited to read Davis’s memoir, partly because I’d heard many positive things about it and partly because I admire her as an actress. Finding Me joins the group of outstanding self-narrated celebrity memoirs I’ve read (these include books by Mariah Carey, Diane Keaton, Patti Smith, and Springsteen, among others). Davis tells the gut-wrenching story of growing up in extreme poverty and the shame of growing up as a bed-wetter whose dirty clothes also stank of urine. Education was her savior, and she knew early on that she wanted to act. She offers revealing observations about colorism (and of course, racism) in the entertainment world, and how dark-skinned women not necessarily perceived as beautiful are limited in the parts they can play (usually drug-addicted moms). Of course, Davis has reached a stature of success and recognition in which she has more choices, but her insights into show business are fresh and fascinating. My only complaint about this memoir is that it ended too soon. Highly recommended.

69. Unmasked, by Paul Holes. I was familiar with criminalist/crime-scene investigator/profiler Holes via his collaboration with the late Michelle McNamara on the Golden State Killer investigation (chronicled in her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer). His memoir offers a smattering of biographical material but focuses on his most important cases, including, of course, the Golden State Killer (GSK), the pursuit of whom probably takes up a third of the book. Takeways include the fact that genetic genealogy, which eventually led to the apprehension of the GSK, is the new frontier in solving crimes, especially cold cases. The other takeaway is how much of a toll an obsession with solving a crime can take on one’s life. Holes believes his marriages were deeply damaged by his obsession, and he suffered depression and excessive drinking. He also believes McNamara was the final victim of the GSK in that her obsession led to her death in 2016 from overdosing on prescription drugs. Like the Viola Davis memoir I read right before this one, Unmasked is self-narrated by the author; he does a better than average job, though not stellar).

70. Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses, by Sarah Fay. The theme of this memoir is self-evident, but it’s also a screed against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and the author makes a case for the manual’s lack of validity. Fay bizarrely (but interestingly) peppers the book with discussions of … punctuation, relating each of her misdiagnoses to a form of punctuation. Pathological was an interesting read, and the critique of the DSM disturbing. As someone who knows more about punctuation than the average person, I enjoyed those parts, especially the history of each form.

71. Small Teaching, by James M. Lang. Not sure this book belongs on the list since it’s a professional-development book, but here it is. Lang suggests small ways college instructors can engage students and improve their learning. It’s geared more to face-to-face teaching than the online teaching I do, but its companion volume Small Online Teaching may also end up on the list.

72. Who Killed Jane Stanford? by Richard White. I was intrigued to read this book after a previous exposure to the Jane Stanford mystery in the book Why Fish Don’t Exist, which focuses on ichthyologist and taxonomist David Starr Jordan, who later was the first president of Stanford University, founded by Jane and her husband Leland in memory of their late son. In both Why Fish Don’t Exist and Who Killed Jane Stanford?, Jordan emerges as a viable suspect in her murder via strychnine poisoning. White’s book is an exhaustive history of the university’s founding, university politics, and the circle of people around Jane Stanford, who is portrayed as an officious, controlling unpleasant woman, who was into spiritualism, conservatism, and prudish morality. His research is clearly meticulous – actually a bit too meticulous for my tastes. I often found myself wanting him to cut to the chase. White finally reveals his theory in the epilogue, and it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to say he lets Jordan off the hook.

73. The Gardner Heist, by Ulrich Boser. This book falls in my category of “comforting narratives,” topics I’ve consumed a lot about but still like to revisit even though I know a lot about them. I’ve most likely said this before, but my greatest fear used to be dying without finding who Watergate figure Deep Throat was; now that that fear is moot, it’s the fear of not finding out what happened to the artwork stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The Gardner Heist was published in 2008, so it doesn’t begin to touch on the latest theories on the case, and solving the mystery of whodunnit still may not reveal where the stolen pieces are.(I also probably wouldn’t have read it if I’d realized it was that old. I thought it was published in 2018, but that’s just when the audiobook came out.) Boser clearly did comprehensive research, and he his goal didn’t seem to be merely to report his findings but to solve the case. Obviously, he did not.

74. Ruthless, by Ron Miscavage. It’s probably almost an annual tradition for me to read a book that trashes Scientology, which is also one of my “comforting narratives.” This is the second book I’ve read by a relative of Scientology board chairman David Miscavage; in this case the author is his father. It’s probably the most I’ve read about the younger Miscavage’s growing-up years, which was fun because it took place in my old South Jersey stomping grounds, and the author mentions several places I’m familiar with, like the Mallard Inn. It was the elder Miscavage who got David into Scientology. I found it kind of amazing that Ron worked for 27 years, mostly under his son’s dictatorship, in the cult’s notorious Sea Org. His story of getting out and the harassment he experienced afterward will be familiar to anyone whose read as many Scientology exposes as I have.

75. The Light We Carry, by Michelle Obama. Michelle’s second book, which could be described as “self-help” or “inspiration,” did not seem as promising as her memoir, Becoming, largely because I’m not into self-help, but the more I read, the more her wisdom began to resonate with me. I certainly share the Fearful Mind she talks about, and I loved what she had to say about celebrating the light in others. The book was not without its autobiographical tidbits. While I liked Becoming more, I also enjoyed this followup.

76. The Devil’s Half Acre, by Kristen Green. The genre of books about enslaved women has been part of my reading repertoire for several years, and this is the first and probably only entry this year in the genre. I was excited to read this nonfiction counterpart to a novel I read last year, The Yellow Wife. As I recall, The Yellow Wife was loosely based on or inspired by the historical account that unfolds in The Devil’s Half Acre. Early on in The Devil’s Half Acre, I learned the reason for the “loosely based” aspect; almost nothing is known about the early years of Mary Lumpkin, the historical figure on whom novelist Sadeqa Johnson’s protagonist is based and about whom Green writes in the nonfiction version. Thus, Johnson had to make up Lumpkin’s origin story. Green’s approach is informed, researched speculation on Lumpkin’s early years, peppering her reporting with the phrase “may have.” Based on accounts of enslaved women in similar situations, Lumpkin “may have” done this or that, Green suggests. Green illuminates the huge number of enslavers who raped and impregnated enslaved women and how those women and their contributions have been erased from history.

77. What Happened to You? by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry. This book, an interesting mashup between a conversation and a book, is about the effect of trauma on our lives, and what we can do about it. The research-backed conversation is between Oprah and psychologist/psychiatrist Perry. Oprah talks about the trauma in her own life as well trauma in the lives of guests in the more then 200 episodes of her show featuring victims of trauma. Perry discusses the trauma victims he has treated as patients. The conversational approach is well-done; it is certainly scripted, but it doesn’t sound scripted; it sounds like a fairly natural discussion. My interest in trauma was piqued a couple years ago when I worked with a couple of trauma subject-matter experts in designing a course in trauma-informed approaches to higher-education. Like just about everyone, I’ve had trauma in my life, though not nearly as severe and impactful as many have experienced. Thus, this book is not necessaril

*Dead narrator

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