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Best reading of 2022: Fiction and nonfiction

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Images courtesy of the publishers
Images courtesy of the publishers

It happens every year. The decorations come down. The last of the Christmas leftovers have been eaten. Errant bits of ripped wrapping are found and discarded. You have no more holiday candy or cookies. You look around at your empty hands, and you wonder now what?

Now it's time to settle in and read for the rest of the winter season.

For your pleasure, here are the Top Five Bookworm Picks for the Best of 2022...

Lovers of fairy tales are in for a big surprise with The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean (Tor, $26.99). It's a dark, dark legend filled with evil dragons that look like men, princesses that are worse than second-class citizens within their realms, and a chase that will chill you. Book lovers will adore this tale, especially if you don't necessarily need a happily-ever-after.

Dot and Ralphie by Amy Hoffman (University of Wisconsin Press, $16.95) doesn't look like much. But aren't you glad you don't judge a book by its cover? This is a sweet tale of two elderly women, partners in life, love, and aging. It's sweet and grumpy and charming, somewhat like a Lesbian Honeymooners episode, only better.

Readers who are familiar with the thrillers that James Lee Burke writes will absolutely be stunned by Every Cloak Rolled in Blood (Simon & Schuster, $27.00), because in this novel, the thrill is secondary to the main plot. Here, retired detective Aaron Broussard has lost his beloved daughter, and it's cut him to the core. Fiery, glass-sharp grief doesn't stop crime, though, and so he still has to solve it — whether real or imagined. Read this with an open heart and tissues at hand. It may be Burke's best.

Those who like clever stories will love Sign Here by Claudia Lux (Berkeley, $27.00), the tale of Peyote Trip, whose job on the Fifth Floor of Hell is to recruit new souls for eternity. But Pey has a plan to get out of his purgatory, which turns this funny, sharp-witted story into a shady mystery that will make you laugh a lot and squirm even more.

Here's a book that's absolutely not for everyone: Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin (Macmillan Nightfire, $17.99), a Lesbian-feminist dystopian thriller, which sounds like a lot — and it is. A virus has hit every corner of the world, making men into wolf-like killing machines and sending the women into hiding. When two young women — one of them trans — learn that a healer might be able to save them from the inevitable, they head out to find her, but a makeshift band of female warriors get in their way. Again, this isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for something very, very different, this is it.

BONUS: Things Past Telling by Sheila Williams (Amistad, $25.99), a novel of the memories of a 112-year-old former slave, who was also a pirate's woman, a healer, and someone reaching for things her soul needed. It's an adventurous book with the tiniest touch of fantasy — and you shouldn't miss it.

You have questions. And All the Living and the Dead by Hayley Campbell (St. Martin's Press, $29.99) has answers. When someone dies, what happens next? A wide variety of things, that's what, and it's someone else's job to see that they're done right. This book is careful not to be (too) gruesome, but it is compellingly fascinating.

Charlie's Good Tonight by Paul Sexton (Harper, $27.99) is on this list because it could be the biggest surprise of the year. It's the story of the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, a man who really never wanted fame and often actively shunned the limelight. If you think you know all about the debauchery of your favorite rock 'n' roll band, think again and be totally charmed by one man's life.

There are two business books on this list, because they don't at all read like business books; in fact, Think Like a Horse by Grant Golliher (Putnam, $28.00) and Meet Me by the Fountain by Alexandra Lange (Bloomsbury, $28.00) both seem more like snuggle-in-front-of-the-fire kinds of tomes. Golliher's is pure cowboy — he was a rancher and worked extensively with horses — and there are Western-novel tones on getting the most out of people. Lange's is a trip to the mall throughout history, including a good look at stores you may have visited over the years. These are both great for the business-minded reader, but could be enjoyed by anyone.

And finally, an obsession: To Walk About in Freedom by Carole Emberton (W.W. Norton, $28.95), a jaw-dropping memoir that hides in a history book. In the earlier part of the last century, the government paid writers to interview people for a WPA project. One of the interviewees was a former slave who offers up not only her life but a real-life account of the end of slavery and how it impacted everyday, average people. This is a volume you'll be talking about well into the new year.

If these 11 books don't fit your mood, then be sure to check with your favorite bookseller or librarian. When it comes to this kind of thing, (s)he is a superhero.

Happy reading!