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We may not have had as much unfettered reading time as we did during the lockdown days of the COVID pandemic, but cafe-madrid’s editors have still managed to sort out, sift through, and review a wide variety of this year’s most intriguing books. to think about it. Whether we learned how to wield a wok, listened to life lessons from Hideo Kojima, or delved into the seedy underbelly of a 1940s San Francisco alt-universe, here are a few of our favorites from 2022.
Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore
Classic noir cinema was a staple of my home growing up — I mean, my first celebrity crush had begun The thin man series co-star, Myrna Loy – so any story from when mugs were mooks and girls were ladies controls my heart. But The thin man, like the rest of the media that was created at the time, only showed a very narrow, very masculine, very white view of life. Christopher Moore’s latest novel, Razzmatazz, adds some much needed color to the otherwise black and white world of noir.
Razzmatazz is the second title for Moore’s satirical murder mystery series, following 2019’s Black. In this latest installment, we return to post-World War II San Francisco, where bartender Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin and his band of misfits race to survive in Fog City. Helping your best friend’s girlfriend’s abusive husband disappear is one thing, but, as the team soon learns, stealing a potentially magical, absolutely priceless heirloom from the local Tong is quite another – and that’s before one or other madman starts killing the drag kings of the town. .
Razzmatazz is a clever and slightly creepy adventure mystery with a diverse and developed cast of characters, fast paced action that transitions seamlessly between the different viewpoints of that ensemble and doesn’t get bogged down in world building. At about 350 pages each, Black and Razzmatazz will each make for solid weekend entertainment and, if you’re still looking for more Moore after that, check out 2020’s Shakespeare for squirrels. – Andrew Tarantola, editor-in-chief
Upgrade by Blake Crouch
I always look forward to new Blake Crouch releases because his writing is vibrant and fast-paced, so much so that I can see the movie version playing in my head as I devour his latest title in just a few days. These years Upgrade was no exception – we’re in a world where gene editing is real but highly regulated, and we follow Logan Ramsay, a member of the Gene Protection Agency, as he tries to apprehend those who may be involved in nefarious gene editing activities.
But after a violent encounter on a mission, Logan begins to feel less and less himself and more one better version of himself. He can read faster, he is physically stronger and he needs less sleep. He soon learns that his genome has been hacked, and he also discovers that he is part of a much bigger plan that could change humanity as he knows it. As he tries to prevent this plan from being carried out, he is forced to confront some of the darkest parts of his past and the tainted family legacy he has worked so hard to escape from.
Crouch excels at putting readers in the shoes of his protagonist, making them feel the same fear, anxiety, and confusion that his main characters cause. But to think that this makes for an overall unpleasant reading experience would be incorrect: Upgrade is an intriguing thrill ride that moves at lightning speed while asking many questions about humanity as a whole. – Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor-in-Chief
Notes on a performance by Danya Kukafka
On his face, Notes on a performance may seem like a typical serial killer investigation. The novel opens with Ansel Packer counting down his last 12 hours before being executed for killing many women. But Danya Kukafka is much less interested in this killer than in telling the stories of three women who were all affected by Ansel in one way or another. We follow Lavender, Ansel’s mother, as a lost teenager pushed to her limits as she struggles to protect her children and herself; Hazel, Ansel’s sister-in-law who watches her twin lose herself in this toxic relationship; and Saffy, the lead investigator on Ansel’s case with more hidden trauma than you might expect, buried just below the surface. But these women are not victims with a capital V. Instead, they try to turn the serial killer story on its head by drawing our attention to the fact that they survived in spite of everything. Notes on a performance is a dark, captivating story with beautiful prose and a surprising, underlying element of hope at the end of it all. – VP
Our missing hearts by Celeste Ng
Our missing hearts, in the grand tradition of near-future dystopian fiction The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984, presents a vision of our country that feels far too close for comfort. In Ng’s third novel, she writes about a 12-year-old boy named Bird and his father, who live in a United States where laws enshrining the America-first culture have been enacted after years of economic and social turmoil.
In this world, Asians have been scapegoated for all of America’s problems; while Asian Americans are still technically free and full citizens, many of them are under the thumb of the police and subjected to varying degrees of violence at the hands of so-called “real” Americans. And any parents deemed non-American can have their children taken in immediately – no questions asked. As with any good dystopia, books deemed unpatriotic have also been seized and destroyed, including a volume of poetry by Bird’s mother, a woman who disappeared years earlier.
This story is small and universal at the same time. The meat of the story focuses on Bird trying to learn more about his mother and the conditions of the world he lives in, and there are only a handful of main characters. At the same time, Ng skillfully paints a plausible picture of an America giving in to its worst instincts. Ng has pointed out several times that all the atrocities committed in Our missing hearts are things that have already happened in the US or other parts of the world – not a comforting thought.
But as bleak as this world is, the book is full of moments of unexpected beauty and small triumphs. Perhaps most crucially, there is a sense that while an extremist minority currently rules over a more sensible populace, there is a way out of the darkness. Our missing hearts is no light story, but it is an important one, artfully told by a writer who deftly weaves a compelling narrative with gripping social commentary. Ng may have had a major impact in popular culture with Small fires everywhere (and the accompanying Hulu miniseries), but Our missing hearts feels like her definitive work to date. — Nathan Ingraham, deputy editor
The creative gene of Hideo Kojima
Hideo Kojima is a video game designer best known for the Metal gear series, which popularized the stealth genre and had a plot that could be charitably described as ridiculous. Perhaps embarrassingly, I’m a Kojima fan. His studios’ games are often in dire need of an editor and almost constantly drag the line between insight and navel-gazing. Sometimes they do seemed unable to treat their female characters with respect. But they’re always bursting with ideas, trying things out with an unmistakable voice and a relentless, pulverizing earnestness. His post-apocalyptic delivery sim Death stranding is instantly laughable on-the-nose (a hard-to-kill character is called “Die Hardman“AKA: John McClane, naturally), and one of the most enchanting games I’ve played in the last decade.
I give you this background to explain how I ended up reading Kojima’s book, The creative gene, earlier this year. (It’s technically due to be published in late 2021.) Rather than telling a weird techno-thriller or taking a behind-the-scenes look at game development, this is a collection of previously published essays about the books, movies, and other cultural objects that Kojima finds essential to his being. Like his games, it can border on baloney and self-mythologizing, but it’s disarmingly honest, personal and anti-cynical.
In many ways, the Metal gear games are about identity – who we are and how we got there. That’s more or less what Kojima achieves here; for about 250 pages, he talks about things he likes with palpable verve, not to recommend them to consumers, but to explore how they’ve shaped his experience. But more than a memoir The creative gene is an appreciation of how art of all stripes can spark inspiration in a recyclable process.
The prose is nothing special, and there are certainly more essential subjects. While you don’t have to be a gamer to get something out of this, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with Kojima’s work. Still, The creative gene‘s sincerity and enthusiasm are easy to appreciate in a time of widespread detachment. – Jeff Dunn, senior trade writer
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Emily St. John Mandel delivered one of the essential readings of the pandemic when she published The Glass Hotel in March 2020. It was no small feat as she previously wrote the award-winning book Station Eleven, a novel partly set after a world flu. Since there was a gap of five years between them Station Eleven and Glass Hotel, I could not have hoped that one of my favorite authors would release a new novel so soon, and that it would be as good as her previous works. Satisfying, Sea of Tranquility does not disappoint.
It shares many of the same strengths as Mandel’s earlier novels, including a brilliant sense of atmosphere and prose that rewards close reading. Sea of Tranquility is also talking to Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel in a way that will delight fans. That’s not to say you have to have read those books to enjoy her latest, but it may lead you to look at them (and Mandel’s career) in a new light. Add to that themes that resonate with everyone who has lived through the past two years and you have one of the best books of 2022. – Igor Bonifacic, Weekend Editor