Well, another year has flown by. This was a weird year in a trilogy of weird years. Let’s hope this was a true trilogy and not a Douglas Adams trilogy.*
My 2022 was a bit crazed. I started 2022 in Okinawa, Japan, where I lived since the start of covid. In April, I finally got to return to the states for the first time in two years. I secured a new job in May, said goodbye to Okinawa in July, and move back to Washington D.C. I lived like a nomad for a couple months until I bought a condo. My stuff and my books finally arrived in mid-October. So I spent a lot of the summer under stress and read very little. I mostly reread old faves. Comfort reads. Or rather, I listened to my fave books on audio. Over and over again.
Does anyone else do this? I’ve read that it’s a trait of a type of introvert to relisten/reread/rewatch faves. Over and over and over.
Despite the craziness and stress and lack of any significant reading May through October, I did read some fantastic books this past year. So with the countdown to the New Year, I’m taking a moment to reflect back on my top reads of 2022.
* Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is “a trilogy in five parts.” In other words, it was meant to be a trilogy but stretched to 5 books and Adams had intended on writing a 6th.
These are in no particular order and not all were published in 2022.
Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs
Genre: urban fantasy
Patricia Briggs has long been a favorite and auto-buy author for me. Any time she has book release, I will pre-ordered it both in print and audio.
Soul Taken is book 13 in the Mercy Thompson series. This series features Mercy, a half Native American, coyote shifter, Volkswagon mechanic. Her world, set in the Tri-Cities, Washington, features wereworlves, fae, vampires, goblins, witches, and more. And it is one of my favorite urban fantasy series.
In Book 13 we find that Wulfe, a rather old and somewhat crazy vampire who has a fascination with Mercy, is missing and a soul taker is on the loose. But that’s not all. So.much.happens!
Not only do we get to know more about Wulfe, we learn more about Sherwood and Zee. Tad might be dating someone. Warren is dealing with something he doesn’t want the pack to know. Samuel and Coyote both have a cameo.
At the end, I found so much to distill and wondering about all the many ways the world could go from here. And so, I’m back to waiting for the next book!
Was this my favorite book of the series? No. But it’s still a 5 star read for me. Lorelei King is the narrator on the audiobook version of the Mercy Thompson series and she is a fantastic narrator.
I will note that this is not a series you can read out of order. Each book builds upon the previous books, and so I recommend starting with Book 1, Moon Called.
Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro
I don’t remember how I lucked out on getting an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Ordinary Monsters, but Flatiron Books sent it to me in exchange for an honest review. And not only did I actually read it before its release date (released June 2022, I read it in May), I loved it.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I picked up this novel. Miro has created an incredible world with Talents (children born with extraordinary abilities) set in the Victorian era. This book captivated me from page 1 and kept me fascinated throughout the nearly 700 pages.
Yes, this book is a bit of a chunkster, but the pages fly by as you’re immersed in this world, which, at different times, was reminiscent of Harry Potter, Umbrella Academy, X-Men, Perigrine Children, and Penny Dreadful. And yet, it stands on its own, developing its own unique tale of heroes, monsters, and villains, and coming to terms with an impending apocalypse that threatens to usher in a horrifying future.
What I liked best was the grayness of the story. Who is the villain? Who is the hero? Who is a monster? Throughout, I was constantly questioning the motivations of most of the adult characters. There’s no real answer (at least not in this book). I almost hope that the remaining books continue to deal in shades of gray because the grayness made it feel authentic, even with the fantastical elements.
I can’t really explain the scope and richness of the characters and world-building without spoilers. I admit I was a bit hesitant to start the book because of its size as I feared there would be a lot of filler pages. But not one page was wasted.
J.M. Miro has created an immersive, dark, sweeping epic story. And I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.
Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
Genre: non-fiction memoir
If you know me, then you’ve probably heard me recommend Gadsby’s comedy shows, Nanette and Douglas, both of which are on Netflix. I’ve watched both multiple times and I still laugh out loud and also cry. Gadsby is a master comedian and I hope to see her live one of these days.
Hannah Gadsby is a neuro-diverse, LBGTQ+ comic from Tasmania, Australia. Nanette was filmed in the Sydney Opera House, released by Netflix in 2018, and subsequently won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.
So loving her comedy specials, when she announced the book, I immediately pre-ordered Ten Steps to Nanette, both in print and on audio (she narrates the book, which I think adds to the experience).
As she says at the beginning of Douglas, she had “no intention of making it big in America.” In fact, Nanette was to be her break-up with comedy. Ten Steps takes us through the defining moments in her life that led to the creation of Nanette.
While you don’t have to see Nanette before reading the book, I think it helps for context purposes. Also, trigger warnings for both the comedy show and the book: her story has trauma, including rape and assault.
The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He
The Ones We’re Meant To Find isn’t going to be for everyone. Either people will become immersed or fail to get captivated. For me, I immersed fully into this world. This arduous exploration of a world too close and yet divergent from our own reality, a world that is difficult to feel comfortable with and yet transfixes. But I so recommend it—just try to move beyond the fact that it’s labeled as young adult (don’t get me started on this classification) and the genre of dystopian sci-fi and the strong climate change meassage.
Seriously. I absolutely loved this book once I got past the aforementioned bits. Because based on the aforementioned bits, I admit that this is not a book I normally would’ve picked up. In fact, the only reason I had it was because it came in one of the monthly OwlCrates. And then it sat on my shelf for nearly 9 months. I only picked it up because of a reading challenge. Then I pretty much couldn’t put it down. (I say pretty much because I had to put it down at night since work unfortunately doesn’t understand things like “read all night” and “book hangover” as an excuse not to come in.)
Even though I started this book a bit hesitantly, I immediately became invested in the alternating storylines—Cee’s written in first person and Kasey’s written in third person. In fact, I didn’t even pick up on that at first, as I found it so well written and immersing. When I finally realized it, I thought it a bit weird but at the same time it worked. It was also around this time, around chapter 8, when I realized that Kasey’s chapter numbers were written natural numbers and Cee’s were in hashmarks. Clever.
As I kept reading, I became completely immersed in this story set in a future-climate-critical world. The world building is interesting and complex. Kasey’s world is clearly high tech with cures for most diseases, holographs, intrafaces, and stasis pods, but suffering under the consequences of years/decades/centuries of decimating nature and failing to take aggressive action to stop and even turn the tide of climate change. Cee’s world is a bit harder to decipher, intentionally done by the author, to create a sense of the isolation and desolation of being on an island alone.
As I finished the book, part of me wondered what the heck I had just read. Yes, it is a kind of dystopian sci-fi, but at it’s core, I think this is a more philosophical work questioning what we owe each other. Asking tough questions about freedom to live as one chooses versus living for the collective good (a rather current question given covid), about international harm versus societal good, and even about what makes a human human.
And yet, this is also a story about a individuals, their journey of discovering who they are and what it means to be family. About the bond between sisters and finding commonality beyond DNA, about each exploring differing world views through the lens of the other. Two sisters who seem quite different, who see the differences and each feel less, and yet. . .
Logic ended where love began.Joan He
Always, In December by Emily Stone
Genre: contemporary fiction/modern romance
You may see Always, In December advertised as holiday romance. The cover lends itself to that too. But do not be deceived! This book gutted me. Absolutely gutted me. I would not classify this as “holiday romance.” Let me explain.
This December, I participated in a holiday romance reading challenge. Tis the season for happy endings and Hallmark movies. So scanning through my library’s selection, I briefly read the synopsis of this book and thought it was a holiday romance, maybe a little bit more serious than the typical holiday romance. But hey, not every romance needs to be totally light and fluffy as long as there’s a HEA. I figured this was along the lines of Josie Silver’s One Day in December, which. I loved.
Well clearly, I should have read some reviews. Because I was wrong. So very, very wrong. This is not a holiday romance, a la Hallmark. This is a holiday, rip-your-heart-out, ugly crying contemporary fiction romance.
Learn from my mistake.
You have been warned.
This book ripped my heart out a la Nicholls’s One Day (another book that gutted me). And so I sat, 9 days before Christmas, bawling my eyes out. Some serious ugly crying.
Did I see the ending coming? Not at first but eventually. But I kept thinking, no, no, that can’t be how this is going to end. And yet I kept reading, like a train wreck you know is coming but can’t stop.
Now that this book has shattered my heart into a thousand pieces, I want to share it with all of you. Because I’m a giver. And I like to share. Because seriously, this book is so well done. The prose is beautiful and the theme even more so. It’s worth the tears.
So pick up this book. And then do what I did once you finish it: make a blanket fort, prepare a bucket load of hot tea, surround yourself with some of those fluffy, light romances that are so Hallmark-esque in their sticky sweet predictable, guaranteed HEAs, and attempt to staple your heart back together.
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
If you follow any of the many various bookstagrams or book toks, then you’ve probably seen Legends and Lattes being touted as the latest hot fantasy read. Normally when I see a book being hyped, I tend to be wary because I found that hyped books often get over-hyped and never live up to expectations.
But then I saw a few trusted reviewers give this book 5 stars. I saw several of my Litsy friends give this book a thumbs-up pick. And so I thought I’d give it a try. I bought it Monday, started reading it late Thursday night and finished it first thing Friday morning, December 30. Just under the wire to make my 2022 Top Faves list!
The story is just as fun and beautiful as everyone claims. A story of dreams and coffee and finding your tribe. Plus, I love the cover. I mean, when does an Orc ever get to be the hero in their own awesome story?
Baldree, a video game developer and audiobook narrator, wrote this book during NaNoWriMo 2021. As you know, I participate in NaNo every year (although some years I participate more than others). With encouragement from his NaNo writing buddy and an awesome circle of beta readers, he self-published it as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing in February 2022.
Then magic happened with the help of social media and his book was picked up by Tor Books and voilà. Here I am, less than a year later holding a physical copy of this awesome book.
That, my friends, is the power of good storytelling. And don’t let anyone tell you that magic doesn’t exist. It does . . . and not just in stories.
The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone
Genre: historical biographical fiction
The Agony and the Ecstasy is an incredible epic story. The time and effort Stone spent researching Michelangelo shines through this biography.
Is it a biography? Yes, Stone did a lot of research, even reviewing Michaelangelo’s own writings. Everything that can be is historically accurate.
Is it fiction? Well, yes. Stone does imagine conversations, feelings, and other details that no historian could ever determine.
I say this epic story is more non-fiction than fiction, even though parts of it are fiction and the style is more fiction than biography. But to me, that makes this that much better because the plot (the life of Michaelangelo) flows. The people, time, and places come alive. I was completely sucked into the story, mesmerized with the details that Stone included. Absolutely incredible.
In comparison, I also tried to start the biography of Leonardo Da Vinci and I can’t count how many times I found myself drifting off because the narrative is more sterile, reciting facts without the drama and interest that Stone created here.
This biographical novel is a chunkster at 776 pages or nearly 34 hours on audiobook. I did listen to the audiobook and Arthur Morey does a fantastic job narrating. A great audiobook for a long, winter weekend.
Skyhunter by Marie Lu
Marie Lu hit my radar a couple of years ago when I read The Kingdom of Back, a historical biographical fantasy. (Yes, you read that right.) I loved Kingdom, and so I was intrigued when I read a preview of Skyhunter on BookishFirst. It was one of the best previews I have ever reviewed on BookishFirst, so of course I immediately ordered it.
And then it sat on my TBR bookcase for a year and a half.
Why? Mostly because I really wanted to love it but I worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.
I have an entire shelf of books in this category.
But I digress. I actually kicked myself for not picking up this book sooner. Marie Lu has created an incredible world. I dove right in and didn’t look back. The world-building is fantastic. The characters are compelling and well-developed. The story picks you up and doesn’t stop.
Although I do wish there had been a bit more depth in some areas, this is book 1 of a duology. Also, this book is written as a first person point of view. We see the world through Talin’s perspective and what she understands and knows, which is limited for several reasons that I won’t get into as not to spoil it for you. And so, it makes sense that we only see the world as she understands it.
Like many YA books, I admit that some things that happen are a bit too convenient and the story overall is a tad too predictable. But this didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story and I devoured it and immediately ordered book 2 (which I have yet to read).
Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez
Genre: romance with a hint of magical realism
I admit. I used to have a bit of a snotty attitude about romance. Because we all know how every.single.one ends. With a HEA (happily ever after). So I figured if we know the ending, what’s the fun in reading it?
Well, I’ve since had a change of heart. I realized that the point isn’t the ending. It’s the journey. The journey that the two have to take to get to that HEA. That’s where the magic happens. And it is magic.
Romance books have also helped keep me relatively sane these last three challenging years. So consider me a romance genre convert.
I fell in love with Jimenez at the end of last year when I randomly checked out The Happy Ever After Playlist (which remains my favorite fave of Jimenez’s books) from my library. I liked the cover and it was immediately available when my next closest hold was 4 weeks. I devoured it, and then The Friend Zone (which is actually book 1 of the series) and Jimenez became an auto-buy for me.
Part of Your World is set in the same universe as the first 3 books, which I love. It was fun to spot the easter eggs of the other 3 books. There’s a definite connection between this book and Slone from Playlist, which is super fun. I also loved all The Princess Bride references.
One of the main reasons I liked this book is that Alexis, the female protagonist, is 38. It’s refreshing to read a romance where the female is over 30.
Like her other books, Jimenez doesn’t shy from difficult subjects (infertility, death, substance abuse). I will note a trigger warning for this one is abuse (both psychological and physical).
Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews
Genre: urban fantasy
Fantasy is my fave genre and Ilona Andrews is an auto-buy for me. I love her Kate Daniels series (which has sadly been concluded). Iron and Magic, The Iron Covenant Book 1, is a spin-off of Kate’s series. So I bought this one (it was first published in 2018) and then sat on it.
For 4 yeras this book sat on my shelves. Why? Because this is labeled as “Iron Convenant Book 1.” If this is “book 1,” then that means there will be a book 2. Right?
But so far, no book 2 has been announced. And I have been trying to clear off my TBR bookcase. So I finally puicked it up. And then I kicked myself for not reading it sooner bceause it was everything I want in a fantasy book.
First, Hugh d’Ambray was one of my favorite characters in Kate’s series. I mean, who doesn’t love a villain? And Hugh was one of the best villains in Kate’s story. Dark, strong, tortured and yet beautifully humanly flawed. A villain we love to hate and yet still want to root for.
So I have no real excuse for not reading Hugh’s story sooner. I especially like that this book doesn’t spend too much time on Hugh’s life pre-purge (i.e., the bits that would overlap with Kat’s story) except where it plays into this story. And Elara is a new and fascinating character. And I love seeing the sparks fly between these two. I’m looking forward to more Hugh and Elara. (Please, please please Ilona and Gordon, please write book 2 soon!)
I gave each of these books 4 stars. I greatly enjoyed them, they just didn’t make my top fave list.
The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin
Genre: urban fantasy
The Nature of Witches was close to being a top fave. But in the end, I really rated it 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 because the dust jacket and the cover under the dust jacket are both just gorgeous.
This is Griffin’s debut novel, published in 2021. And like many debut novels, there were some issues. So I’ll start off with what I felt was the best and strongest part of the book—the magic system. I loved the magic system and how it was based on nature and the seasons. I especially liked how the magic system was tied to the earth, the weather, and all things nature and incorporated climate change and made it make sense in conjunction with the magic system. Rather a seamless merger in my opinion.
That being said, I felt the biggest issue was that the overall world-building could have been a bit more robust. I had so many questions. Why are non-magical humans called shaders? I never got that. It seemed an odd choice to call a non-magical person without providing some sort of explanation. The book states that Sang’s mother was non-magical. So clearly shaders can have magical children. But does one parent have to be magical? Was Sang’s father a witch? Or can both parents be shaders? And if both parents are non-magical, how are their children identified as witches?
This is just the tip of my question iceberg. I have so many more questions about this world. And while I don’t expect every question to be answered in the first book, I felt these details could have made the book stronger. With a bit more fleshing out of the world, this had potential to be a 5 star read because the writing was lyrical and beautiful. I flagged a lot of quotes.
As it is, it’s one of the strongest debut novels I’ve read recently. I think Rachel Griffin will only get better. But that is why this is a runner-up instead of a top fave.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Genre: urban fantasy, mythology
Anansi Boys is one of the last Gaiman books I had to read (at least until he publishes a new book). I don’t know why it took me so long to read it because Gaiman is one of my auto-buy authors. But I finally read it just a week ago as a book club read.
Like many other Gaiman stories, Anansi Boys is rooted in mythology. In this case, West African mythology where Anansi (translated to “spider”) is the Akan God of stories, wisdom, knowledge, and possibly creation. He is also often depicted as a trickster god like Loki or Coyote.
In this book, Anansi is Fat Charlie’s dad, Mr. Nancy. The book has all the trademark Gaimanness—great prose, incredible imagery, cleverness, humor. That being said, while I did greatly enjoy Anansi Boys, this isn’t my favorite Gaiman book. Of course, the bar is high because I have enjoyed every Gaiman book. Still, Gaiman will always be a top pick for me.
Fat Charlie’s father’s names for things stuck. That was just how it was. That was far from the worst thing about Fat Charlie’s father.Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman
A Very Merry Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
A Very Merry Bromance is another almost top fave book. Book 5 in the Bromance Book Club series finally features our country music star Colton. And while I devoured it in one sitting, it wasn’t my fave of the series (that still goes to Gavin followed by Noah). And although I felt it lacked a bit (which is why I gave it 4 stars), Very Merry is still a great installment to the Bromance series.
The Broamnce Book Club is a fun series starring male protagonists with male POVs, which has been refreshing. Most romance is set from the female’s perspective or maybe does a back and forth. But few are completely set from the male’s point of view.
Like most romance series, you do not have to read them in order. Yes, some of the previous characters pop up here (as they do in the other books as well), but knowing their stories is not important to understanding this one.
Also, Andrew Eiden, who narrates all 5 books, does a fantastic job. I love listening to an entire romance book narrated by a male narrator.
Poems to Night by Rainer Marie Rilke
In 1916, Rainer Maria Rilke presented the writer Rudolf Kassner with a notebook containing 22 poems, meticulously copied out in his own hand and bearing the title Poems to Night. This cycle of poems, which echoes some of the great themes of German romanticism, is now thought to represent one of the key stages in the creative breakthrough and spiritual evolution of one of the preeminent European poets of the twentieth century.
For most of the poems, this is collection represents their first time in English.
One night I held between my handsRainer Maria Rilke
your face. The moon fell upon it.
Poetry is so subjective, much more so, I think, than prose. I found this to be a moving and transcendent collection. But not my favorite poetry collection. I only wish I could read them in the original German because I feel that some of the magic may be missing due to normal translation issues.
Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews
Genre: urban fantasy
As you may have guessed already, I’m a huge Ilona Andrews fan. Like Iron and Magic, I put off reading Blood Heir in the hopes that a book 2 would be announced. But I finally caved.
I did greatly enjoy this book. So why not 5 stars? Honestly, I’m not sure. I wavered between 4 and 5 stars. Some of it is because of the gap between the last Kate Daniels book, Magic Triumphs and this book. Eight years have passed, and Julie, now known as Aurelia, returns to Atlanta. Because Kate’s books are centered in Atlanta and this book takes place in Atlanta, a lot of characters overlap. And yet it’s been 8 years, so there are some changes as well as new additions, but few explanations exist to explain the changes. Whereas Hugh’s book is not only set before Magic Triumphs, it is located in Kentucky with all new characters save for Hugh.
In the end, maybe I just like villain stories more. Plus, the narrator for Iron and Magic, Steve West, does a magnificent job. His voice is delicious and perfect for Hugh. Whatever the reason, Iron and Magic edged out Blood Heir by a smidge. But I still really enjoyed Aurelia’s story and can’t wait for book 2.
What were your favorite reads in 2022? Share your faves and recommendations in the comments.
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