#Bookvent – Celebrating my top reads of 2022
So … my bookvent countdown is nearly over, but there are some books I really couldn’t bring myself to ignore, even though they don’t fit my criteria for the book of the year countdown. They are books that were first published last year and, had I been more aware of more up to date with my reading I know that they would absolutely – without question – be in my top reads, with a couple of them undoubtedly a contender for Book of the Year. Rather than no highlight their brilliance, I’m giving them a special post of their own. They are most definitely worth it and all Red Hot Reads Highly Recommended books in my 2022 reviews. So here they are …
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since.
But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.
Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death.
Derek’s father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father’s criminal past. But Buddy Lee – with seedy contacts deep in the underworld – needs to know who killed his only child.
Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons – and each other – as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.
A provocative revenge thriller and an achingly tender story of redemption, this novel is a ferocious portrait of grief; for those loved and lost, and for mistakes than can never truly be undone.
This book. Why did I leave it on my shelf for so long? Big mistake. A ‘buddy’ story of the finest order, S.A Cosby introduces us to Ike and Buddy-Lee, two men from very different backgrounds who are brought together by tragedy and an overwhelming need for revenge. This is real classic American noir and the audiobook is highly recommended as Adam Lazarre-White is phenomenal. I love S.A. Cosby’s turn of phrase, the power in even the simplest of scenes, and the way in which he has infused tension and anger throughout the pages without every letting them take control. It is a dark story that speaks to the prejudices of society, both linked to race and sexual orientation, and how this all to often shifts towards violence. There is a mystery at the heart of the story, but it is the poignancy and the regret of our protagonists which really make the book so special. They are a duo that should not work and yet they do. In spite of all that they do, the tragedy that unfurls, I found myself rooting for them from the start, completely invested in their quest for revenge, and feeling the often overwhelming sense of loss. Beautiful moments of quiet reflection, scenes of pulse-pounding action and tension, and everything in between, this really is quite a remarkable book, Highly recommended.
My full review is found here.
The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker
‘So that was all it took,’ I thought. ‘That was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy. It wasn’t so much after all.’
Chrissie knows how to steal sweets from the shop without getting caught, the best hiding place for hide-and-seek, the perfect wall for handstands.
Now she has a new secret. It gives her a fizzing, sherbet feeling in her belly. She doesn’t get to feel power like this at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.
Fifteen years later, Julia is trying to mother her five-year-old daughter, Molly. She is always worried – about affording food and school shoes, about what the other mothers think of her. Most of all she worries that the social services are about to take Molly away.
That’s when the phone calls begin, which Julia is too afraid to answer, because it’s clear the caller knows the truth about what happened all those years ago.
And it’s time to face the truth: is forgiveness and redemption ever possible for someone who has killed?
Melancholic, powerful and visceral are just three of the words I used to describe this book in my review, and for good reason. It is a story of murder, neglect and of second chances, and although it is a dark read, it is one which really does leave an indelible mark on your heart. It is impossible not to feel for Chrissie, the eight year old girl caught in the centre of this story, no matter what your mind may tell you to the contrary, Nancy Tucker creating a kind of tragic dichotomy and question of whether even something so utterly heinous as what comes to pass is ever just a question of right and wrong. This is a dual timeline story of consequences and forgiveness, one that stayed with me for a very long time.
You can read my full review here.
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
If you have a problem, if no one else can help, there’s one person you can turn to.
Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way onto the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism becomes personal. Enlisting the help of his ex-girlfriend, he sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.
Following a lead to Denver, they find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity – but being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.
Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling.
I came across this book by pure luck following a panel Mandie and I decided to attend at Bloody Scotland in 2021. I am so glad we did as this book is one which really hit the spot for me, Set in the Sicangu Lakota Nation, Winter Counts is the story of Virgil, a ‘fixer, on the Rosebud Reservation who takes on a case against all of his better judgment in order to protect his young Nephew. Highlighting the way in which modern life in the US has altered the Native American way of life irreparably, this story is in a small part a mystery, but most definitely an intense thriller with a high sense of danger and corruption, and a lead character I really connected with. Virgil is sceptical of his roots, his heritage. He is not a ‘true blood’ Lakota, and so suffers his own kind of prejudice and discrimination from those who consider his mixed heritage to be a lesser status, and yet he is determined, fierce and driven by his own sense of right and wrong. I love the way in which David Heska Wanbli Weiden has managed to create a thriller which captivates and which also acts as a cutting social commentary on the many injustices inflicted on the indigenous people of South Dakota. He is most definitely an author whose work I am tracking for the future, and if you like an authentic taste of the real indigenous America, this is highly recommended.
My full review can be found here.
Lightseekers by Femi Kayode
They already know who killed the men. What they don’t know is why.
When three young students are brutally murdered in a Nigerian university town, their killings – and their killers – are caught on social media. The world knows who murdered them; what no one knows is why.
As the legal trial begins, investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo is contacted by the father of one of the boys, desperate for some answers to his son’s murder. But Philip is an expert in crowd behaviour and violence, not a detective, and after travelling to the sleepy university town that bore witness to the killings, he soon realises that someone really doesn’t want him there and will do anything to prevent him learning the truth.
Will he uncover what really happened to the Okiri Three?
Talk about a gripping opening chapter. This one really hits home and left me in no doubt at all about the authors ability to create intrigue and tension. There is an authenticity to this book, and an intensity that really grabbed me as a reader. The story is not always easy to read, but then by its nature, its not really meant to be comfortable. This is an investigation, of sorts, into the murder of a young University student by a mob intent on violence and retribution. For Philip Taiwo, understanding the why of this situation is what he has been employed to do, and is also the one thing that could cost him his own life. Femi Kayode has done a brilliant job of exposing the fraternity culture that dominates Nigeria and in which corruption and murder are every day occurrences. Think Nigeria’s answer to the mob and you won’t be far off the mark. The author brings to life the division between the excesses of the wealthy and the poverty of the townsfolk and all of the hate and violence that it engenders, creating a true sense of place, and educating me in aspects of Nigeria’s culture that I knew nothing about. A truly addictive and immersive narrative that hits fast and hits hard and doesn’t let you go, even after the last page is turned. Most definitely recommended.
My full review can be found here.
Happy #bookvent reading all