Wrap-Up: My Top 10 2022 Reads
I hope that you are all having a great holiday season, and that if you are struggling you are at least finding some time to escape in a book! It has been quite a tough year for me, but I have found that my reading life has absolutely flourished. I have read the most books this year that I have read within any year, and I am quite proud of that. I’ve also made quite a few bookish friends on Instagram, and I am really enjoying sharing my love of reading with others.
It was so difficult to pick only ten of my favorite reads that I read in 2022, because so many of them were five star reads. But I hope that maybe you will choose to pick up one of these ten reads and enjoy them as much as I did. Or, if you also read some of these books, you can share your thoughts on them with me!
I have to warn you that my top ten reads are all over the place. I read across so many different genres this year, and I have favorites across all of them. However, I did separate my list by genre to help you browse through it.
I hope you enjoy!
Ashley Nestler, MSW
From Ruby Ridge to Freedom: The Sara Weaver Story by Sara Weaver
Sara Weaver was a teenager when her little brother was shot and killed by a U.S. Marshal. One day later, her mother was killed right in front of her by an FBI sniper. She survived an eleven-day siege, hunkered down in a cabin on a mountain top in Naples, Idaho with her little sisters, her injured father, and injured adopted brother. But walking down that mountain to safety was only the beginning. In the years that followed, she was hounded by news media and reporters. People created their own versions of the event, each presenting their own spin, their own angle, and their own social or political views on those tragic days.
But this book is Sara’s story, written in her own words. It is the story of Ruby Ridge from the inside, from the perspective of the 16-year-old girl who experienced the nightmare firsthand. However, it isn’t just about the pain and hopelessness that shadowed the next ten years as she tried to move on. Sara’s story continues with the transformation in her heart that changed the course of her life. This book is about forgiving even the most horrible and personal of crimes. It’s about finding hope, about finding joy and freedom from the only source that can offer it in this sometimes broken world-her Savior, Jesus Christ.
From Ruby Ridge to Freedom by Sara Weaver is a heart wrenching, yet hopeful, firsthand account of the tragedy that occurred at Ruby Ridge in the 90s. If you want to learn the truth about what really happened, this book is the way to go. It is also a great read if you are unfamiliar with the tragedy. Weaver shares her firsthand experiences with how she remembers what happened, while also sharing how she has moved on from the tragedy and found solace in Christianity. While she does share a lot of Bible verses and her experience with how her faith saved her, she is not preachy, and instead shares a message that there is hope in moving past trauma. Her book is fairly short, but I enjoyed her raw and honest account. I also enjoyed her stories of her family, which gave me more insight into their lives and the life that she lived at Ruby Ridge.
I purchased my copy straight from Weaver’s website, and she signed it for me. If you are interested in getting her book, you can visit her website here: shorturl.at/giLUX
Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls by Kathleen Hale
The first full account of the Slenderman stabbing, a true crime narrative of mental illness, the American judicial system, the trials of adolescence, and the power of the internet
The Slenderman stabbing of May 31, 2014, in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin, shocked the local community and the world. The violence of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, two twelve-year-old girls who attempted to stab their classmate to death, was extreme, but what seemed even more frightening was that they had done so under the influence of a figure born by the internet: the so-called “Slenderman.” Yet the even more urgent aspect of the story, that the children involved were suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, was often overlooked in coverage of the case.
Slenderman: Online Obsession, Mental Illness, and the Violent Crime of Two Midwestern Girls tells that full story for the first time in deeply researched detail, using court transcripts, police reports, individual reporting, and exclusive interviews. Morgan and Anissa were bound together by their shared love of geeky television shows and animals, and their discovery of the user-uploaded scary stories on the Creepypasta website could have been nothing more than a brief phase. But Morgan was suffering from early-onset childhood schizophrenia. She believed that she had been seeing Slenderman for many years, and the only way to stop him from killing her family was to bring him a sacrifice: Morgan’s best friend Payton “Bella” Leutner, whom Morgan and Anissa planned to stab to death on the night of Morgan’s twelfth birthday. Bella survived the attack, but was deeply traumatized, while Morgan and Anissa were immediately remanded into jail, and the severity of their crime meant that they would be prosecuted as adults. There, as Morgan continued to suffer from worsening mental illness after being denied antipsychotics, her life became more and more surreal.
Slenderman is both a page-turning true crime story and a search for justice.
This was another really tough, but important, read. It focuses on the Slenderman case, a case where two young girls were said to have stabbed their best friend multiple times because they were trying to sacrifice her to a character from a creepypasta story named Slenderman. Generally, the young girls were painted as being obsessed and heartless, but there was so much going on behind this story. Hale did an insane amount of research into the case, as well as multiple interviews with one of the girls who was suffering from early onset schizophrenia at the time. Hale’s book dives deep into the mental illness that played a big part in this crime, as well as how the justice system failed. While her book mostly focuses on the girls who committed the crime, she highlights the young girl who was severely injured from the crime and does her justice.
Before finding this book, I just saw the documentary on HBO that highlighted this crime, which completely swayed my opinion of the girls. After reading this book, I am disgusted by the way that the documentary completely had its own agenda in twisting the facts around. If you are interested in this case, I highly recommend skipping the documentary and reading this book instead.
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim
For seven years, Alison Arngrim played a wretched, scheming, selfish, lying, manipulative brat on one of TV history’s most beloved series. Though millions of Little House on the Prairie viewers hated Nellie Oleson and her evil antics, Arngrim grew to love her character-and the freedom and confidence Nellie inspired in her.
In Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, Arngrim describes growing up in Hollywood with her eccentric parents: Thor Arngrim, a talent manager to Liberace and others, whose appetite for publicity was insatiable, and legendary voice actress Norma MacMillan, who played both Gumby and Casper the Friendly Ghost. She recalls her most cherished and often wickedly funny moments behind the scenes of Little House: Michael Landon’s “unsaintly” habit of not wearing underwear; how she and Melissa Gilbert (who played her TV nemesis, Laura Ingalls) became best friends and accidentally got drunk on rum cakes at 7-Eleven; and the only time she and Katherine MacGregor (who played Nellie’s mom) appeared in public in costume, provoking a posse of elementary schoolgirls to attack them.
Arngrim relays all this and more with biting wit, but she also bravely recounts her life’s challenges: her struggle to survive a history of traumatic abuse, depression, and paralyzing shyness; the “secret” her father kept from her for twenty years; and the devastating loss of her “ Little House husband” and best friend, Steve Tracy, to AIDS, which inspired her second career in social and political activism. Arngrim describes how Nellie Oleson taught her to be bold, daring, and determined, and how she is eternally grateful to have had the biggest little bitch on the prairie to show her the way.
I have been a huge Little House on the Prairie fan ever since I was a kid, and when I was growing up, I watched the television series with my mother constantly. This past May, my mother and I took a trip to South Dakota and found a museum that had actual artifacts from the Ingalls family, as well as mementos from the television show. Needless to say, they had a gift shop, and I went a little crazy buying books about Laura Ingalls Wilder. But I just had to pick up this book about the actress who played Nellie in the series. I loved how open and honest Arngrim was in her memoir, and while she does talk a lot about her work in Little House, she talks openly about abuse that she suffered at the hands of her brother. She also discusses her work in activism, particularly with her work focusing on AIDS. Whether you are interested in her because of the character she played, or even if you never saw one episode of Little House, you might enjoy her memoir just as much as I did. It is raw, funny, and I felt upon finishing it that I had made a friend.
Dark Room Etiquette by Robin Roe
Sixteen-year-old Sayers Wayte has everything-until he’s kidnapped by a man who tells him the privileged life he’s been living is based on a lie.
Trapped in a windowless room, without knowing why he’s been taken or how long the man plans to keep him shut away, Sayers faces a terrifying new reality. To survive, he must forget the world he once knew, and play the part his abductor has created for him.
But as time passes, the line between fact and fiction starts to blur, and Sayers begins to wonder if he can escape . . . before he loses himself.
I have to confess that kidnapping thrillers are a genre that I have a complete bookshelf for. I am obsessed with them! So, when I heard that this one was coming out, I bought it immediately. Needless to say, I was absolutely enthralled with it. Roe’s writing is thought-provoking and heartbreaking, while at once beautiful. This book is a psychological thrill ride that addresses bullying and trauma in the most sensitive way possible.
The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis
Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.
Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something-until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” — a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things.
Felicity Turnado has it all — looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.
But she’ll have to.
Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity — brick by brick — as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers — or settle for revenge.
In the first book of this duology, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis draws inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe and masterfully delivers a dark, propulsive mystery in alternating points of view that unravels a friendship… forevermore.
When I first picked up The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis, I did not expect it to be this dark. It is a young adult novel, and while I have read a few YA novels that are pretty dark, this one was a complete horror thrill ride. It is haunting, brutal, and impossible to put down. As a huge horror fan, I picked up on the subtle Edgar Allan Poe style, and it filled my heart with joy. It is an absolute must read for fans of the genre! (If you end up loving this one, make sure you pick up the follow up novel, The Last Laugh. It’s a great conclusion to the story.)
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
A soul-stirring novel about what we choose to keep from our past, and what we choose to leave behind.
Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life-living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising a beautiful son, Asher-was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in, and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.
Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.
And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can she trust him completely . . .
Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in him, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.
Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.
This is one of those novels that you won’t be able to get out of your head upon finishing it. Jodi Picoult has long been my favorite author because of the emotional impact I receive from her novels. But this book was even more unique in that Jennifer Finney Boylan’s voice added a gorgeous and unique perspective to the story. Both authors have written such a seamless and heartbreaking novel that left me completely speechless. In short, you simply must read this book.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.
2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.
2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager-and who professed to worship only her-may be far different from what she has always believed?
Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.
This is one of those novels that is going to have varying reviews simply because of how personal the story is, and how it will affect each reader differently. For me, it was extremely cathartic. Having gone through a situation earlier in my life similar to the topic of the story, I found reading the novel to be triggering, but also healing. It is beautifully written, and one that will leave a lasting impression on your soul.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.
This read is very controversial, due to the age difference between the central characters. But it is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. It is a read that forces you to confront your initial judgements of others by creating a cast of characters that reminds us that appearances aren’t everything. It is a searing story that is full of heart, and I can’t get Wavy or Kellen out of my mind. They are probably some of my favorite characters in all of literature.
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans -though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat-”special meat”-is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost-and what might still be saved.
Okay, so this read is certainly not going to be for everyone. It is grotesque, graphic, and painful to read — but it is also a criticism and examination of our consumerist culture that will leave you with deep scars. While it is a fairly short novel, it packs a huge punch. Upon reading the last sentence you will not be able to get it out of your head, because this author does not hold back.
Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak
A mystery about a woman working as a nanny for a young boy with strange and disturbing secrets.
Fresh out of rehab, Mallory Quinn takes a job in the affluent suburb of Spring Brook, New Jersey as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.
Mallory immediately loves this new job. She lives in the Maxwell’s pool house, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.
As the days pass, Teddy’s artwork becomes more and more sinister, and his stick figures steadily evolve into more detailed, complex, and lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to suspect these are glimpses of an unsolved murder from long ago, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force lingering in the forest behind the Maxwell’s house.
With help from a handsome landscaper and an eccentric neighbor, Mallory sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy-while coming to terms with a tragedy in her own past-before it’s too late.
Finally, we have made it to the end of my list, and to the book that has earned the spot of the best book that I read in 2022. This thriller is impossibly unique, and the structure of the novel is like a fun puzzle that keeps you guessing. It was haunting in a classic, creepy way, and it has begun one of the best books I have ever read. It also won Best 2022 Horror Book on Goodreads, which made me extremely happy. I can’t recommend it enough!
I am very happy with how many great reads I read in 2022, and I can’t wait to see what 2023 brings! I wish you best book wishes in the New Year.
Published by Ashley Nestler, MSW
Ashley Nestler, MSW is a survivor of Schizoaffective Disorder, Quiet Borderline Personality, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, multiple eating disorders, and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ashley has dedicated her life to educating others on mental health and illness, as well as providing online resources for those who may experience barriers when seeking help for their mental health. Ashley is also the author of “Beautiful Nightmare”, “Into The Fog”, and “Behind Broken Glass Walls”. Her short stories and horror poems have been published in various anthologies. She is an educator on writing and loves to help authors through her book critiques and reviews. View all posts by Ashley Nestler, MSW
Originally published at http://peachykeenreviews.com on December 30, 2022.