I love writing these annual book posts – I’ve been doing it since 2016 now. That’s a lot of books, words, stories, and experiences – not to mention the hundreds of books that came before these posts. These last three or four years I’ve been more grateful for books than ever before. Reading at the end of a long day is a solace and escape. I crave it and it makes my life richer, better, and more creative.
I tend toward fantasy, often with a healthy dose of romance baked in, mysteries, scifi, and just fiction in general. Books for me, at least in this stage of my life, are about escapism and comfort. I read enough non-fiction at work.
My favorite go-to authors are Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Rainbow Rowell, Nnedi Okorafor, and Seanan McGuire. I read some of each this year, save Pratchett. His catalog is complete, as he is deceased, but I still haven’t completely finished all his work. Despite that, somehow, one didn’t slip in this year. Only Rowell is in my top picks for this year, though I encourage checking them all out. I have added a note on some of Okorafor’s work I read this year too at the end. These didn’t top the Binti series for me, but this author is worth paying attention too.
A word on romance. I typically kind of laugh it off and make light of how much I enjoy romance novels or a good “relationship storyline” in novels. But here’s the deal, I love love. I love reading about it and reliving those awkward first moments, the will-they won’t-they, the first time people give in to physical attraction. Falling in love is one of the great shared human experiences. There is zero reason I should feel embarrassed to enjoy that part of the storyline. It’s fun, its uniting, its relatable. Stories that include a growing romance are not lesser, if anything, they’re willing to explore one of life’s messiest elements – love.
My goal for 2022 was 90 books and I’ve landed at 92, which I feel great about. I count chapter books I read aloud to the kids, as well as graphic novel volumes (I don’t count individual issues). Here are my favorites from 2022!
The Immortal Soul Savage Yard by Beth May
Good Reads: Diary entries, medical records, book reports, phone calls, dates (the romantic kind), dreams, index cards, passive aggressive post-it notes, stories, emails to professors, dates (the month/day kind), worries, and resumes that never led to job interviews… Beth May’s debut poetry collection is comprised of physical artifacts from her past. The topics may vary widely, from love to mental illness to the most recent “Florida Man” headline, but it’s all in the same handwriting. Welcome to The Immortal Soul Salvage Yard.
Elsbeth: I admit that I am rarely drawn towards poetry offhand, but I always find it satisfying and moving, so I make sure to read at least a few collections each year. I listen to Beth May on the Dungeons and Daddies podcast and so I decided to give her collection a go. I went in knowing it wasn’t a comedic book and that this was a very different type of work from her. And it is – but it is also so good and absolutely colors her performance on the podcast as well. Her words flow lyrically but also feel so disjointed and surprising. This is an intensely personal collection of poems that moved me. After each one it seemed like I stopped, put the book down, and thought “Jesus fucking Christ she’s so good.”
Dance of a Burning Sea by EJ Mellow
Good Reads: Within the world of Aadilor, there is a hidden place called the Thief Kingdom, where both magic and pleasure abound. There, the Mousai, a trio of deadly sorceresses bound by oath and blood, use their powers to protect the kingdom’s treasures. Niya Bassette brings the potent gift of dance to the Mousai, but behind her tempting twirls, she carries a heavy secret—that the infamous pirate lord, Alōs Ezra, has been threatening to exploit for years. Now banished from the Thief Kingdom for smuggling, Alōs resurfaces in Niya’s life with a plot to hold her hostage, leveraging what he knows to extort a pardon from the Thief King. But Niya makes her own deal with Alōs to guard her secret and guarantee her freedom—yet in doing so binds herself aboard his pirate ship, where she must navigate deadly waters, a bloodthirsty crew, and her own traitorous heart. Soon, a simmering attraction between her and Alōs threatens their delicate truce and makes for a tumultuous ride on the open seas. Far from her kingdom, Niya is entangled in a dangerous dance indeed.
Welcome to the world of Aadilor, where dark deeds can mask noble hearts and the most alluring of sways often ends with a burn. Care for a spin?
Elsbeth: I really like this series. The world the author has crafted is bonkers and cool. The sisters are charming and relatable, while flawed and interesting. The celebration of the power in music, song, and dance. Just all of it. I was particularly excited by this addition, because well, bad boy pirate. This is a fantasy romance novel that reads like an adventure book. Fun and sexy.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Good Reads: Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.
There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.
Elsbeth: What a strange little trip this book was. Surreal and mysterious, for the first quarter you just must submit to being along for the ride. Once you begin to get an inkling of what’s happening it’s still satisfying. I appreciate that in the end the author didn’t desert her characters for the sake of an easier ending – there is resolution, but it’s like real(ish) resolution in that it’s not wrapped up in a perfect bow.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Good Reads: Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.
Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.
Elsbeth: I loved Agnes and I loved this book right up until the very end. This isn’t a spoiler because it’s discussed on the dust cover, but the section where they lose Hamnet is just so well written and breathtakingly painful. I cried deeply. As well as the twins birth scene. I did not however find the end satisfying. It felt like when the author mapped out the book she decided that needed to be the final line and how the story should end – but the story itself didn’t really take us to that conclusion. I’d hoped that we would end with Agnes’s vision of her on her deathbed, as discussed throughout the book.
Star Mother by Charlie Holmberg
Good Reads: When a star dies, a new one must be born. The Sun God chooses the village of Endwever to provide a mortal womb. The birthing of a star is always fatal for the mother, and Ceris Wenden, who considers herself an outsider, sacrifices herself to secure her family’s honor and take control of her legacy. But after her star child is born, Ceris does what no other star mother has: she survives. When Ceris returns to Endwever, however, it’s not nine months later—it’s seven hundred years later. Inexplicably displaced in time, Ceris is determined to seek out her descendants.
Being a woman traveling alone brings its own challenges, until Ceris encounters a mysterious—and desperate—godling. Ristriel is incorporeal, a fugitive, a trickster, and the only being who can guide Ceris safely to her destination. Now, as Ceris traverses realms both mortal and beyond, her journey truly begins. Together, pursued across the Earth and trespassing the heavens, Ceris and Ristriel are on a path to illuminate the mysteries that bind them and discover the secrets of the celestial world.
Elsbeth: “Read” this as an audiobook during a nine hour drive to Colorado. This author is just so good and I’ve enjoyed so many of her books. Always the right mix of mysticism and reality and romance but with substantive and meaningful character development. This one particularly had a mythology vibe that I really enjoyed.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Good Reads: Set over one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
Elsbeth: Rowell is a master of emotional nuance and relatability that isn’t heavy handed. Despite Rowell being one of my favorite authors, I had ignored this novel by her, mainly because all the buzz around it I’d heard centered on the main female character not being thin. I just don’t thrive on “fat girl finally accepts herself” stories (being a relatively fat girl myself who loves myself just fine). BUT! But this wasn’t that!
That narrative was so reductive. This story is so much more. Rowell explored what is meant to be a chubby girl in high school in Nebraska in the 80s/90s (a reality I deeply related to) but this isn’t a story about weight. We got race, poverty, and the general shittiness of being 16.
The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
Good Reads: The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer. Award-winning author Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.
Elsbeth: This book was a clever and unique approach to one of my favorite mystery tropes. The addition of the 4th wall breaking author letters was fantastic. I’m not sure I 100% get the very last page, but I think I do? Really enjoyed this one.
If you’ve never read Nnedi Okorafor, you need to. A different (and often, better) voice in science fiction, these books challenged me and, frankly, blew my mind. They didn’t quite hit in the same way her series, Binti, did for me so I don’t include them in my favorites but they are worth calling out. It’s also worth throwing a content warning in here – her work is violent and graphic.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Good Reads: The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa–a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past. Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks–alone, except for her fox companion–searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers. But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Good Reads: In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue. Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny – to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture – and eventually death itself.
Elsbeth: I needed a few days to process this book. This novel is extremely violent, with a lot of graphically described sexual violence, inspired by the weaponized rape by Arab militiamen against Black African women in the Darfur conflict. The story is inherently fantasy with some scifi woven in, and the arch is beautiful and challenging and surprising. I am a huge fan of this author and her extreme creativity in looking at culture, race, and humanity
I’m generally not one to call out bad books, but I will add the following two notes:
As I read Discovery of Witches I thought to myself, “this would be better as a tv show.” She spends half the book napping, and the misogynistic themes are far from subtle, but the settings and people sounded gorgeous. That said, I haven’t watched the show and I have zero desire to read another 800 pages.
Second, I am baffled by the love for The Midnight Library. It is charming, a little sad, A LOT sentimental. To be clear though, a life altering perspective change doesn’t “solve” clinical depression – depression isn’t just having a crappy attitude. I found the end of this novel more than a little bit problematic. Whether or not she was taking meds shouldn’t be a sign of whether or not she had found true happiness in a certain life. It kinda seemed like it really wanted to go into the cheesy “it’s a wonderful life” style fix, while in reality clinical depression doesn’t work that way and making people think it can is harmful.
Anyway, and as always, follow me on Good Reads!
There you have it! Below is the full (pictorial) list of my 2022 reading list.
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