I’m really excited to share my complete reading list from 2022 for two reasons. First, I read 27 books this year, and I’m pretty darn proud of that. My past few years have been quite frankly abysmal in terms of the amount I was able to read, so reading over two books per month is quite an accomplishment for this working mom of two. Secondly, it’s been a very, very long time since I was able to write short reviews of every single book I read in a year, rather than just a few favorites. I did this by briefly jotting down reviews as the year went by. I hope you enjoy the full reading list and share some of your favorite books of 2022, or what you’re looking forward to reading in 2023.
Severance by Ling Ma
4 stars. This dystopian novel was almost too real, but I did enjoy reading it nonetheless. Written in 2018, it’s about an airborne pathogen that comes out of China and affects most of the population, forcing mass closures and widespread mask-wearing…you see where I’m going with this? Scarily prescient, the virus in Severance is more deadly than the real-life one that darkened all our lives starting in 2019. Candace is one of the survivors, holed up in New York as the city slowly closes down around her. She leaves the city and joins a group of other survivors, but finds herself trapped by a man who fancies himself a prophet. The book tells Candace’s story of survival.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
3 stars. I enjoyed Novik’s Uprooted, so decided to pick up the first book in her Scholomance series. Post Harry Potter, we’ve seen many iterations of a “darker magic school,” and this latest is decent if not ground-breaking. In this world, magical forces called malia are constantly seeking to devour young magic users, so a school was created to help educate and protect them. But malia is so powerful that it usually wipes out about half of the class before graduation…except this year.
& Sons by David Gilbert
3 stars. What’s a good way to describe a book that’s slow but artful? “Measured”? “Thoughtful”? & Sons is both of these. Famous writer A. N. Dyer faces his own mortality and grapples with his legacy as he gathers his 3 sons together to try to make amends. It’s a story steeped in privilege and pedigree, about a moneyed, fractured New York family—which can make the characters hard to relate to. But there’s enough of a weird little twist and a dark family secret to make it interesting.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
5 stars. This book has been on my to-read list for some time and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Starr’s childhood best friend Khalil is shot by a police officer, his crime driving while Black in America—and Starr is the only witness. As the Garden Heights community seeks justice for Khalil, Starr is torn between the fear of what will happen to her and her family if she speaks out publicly and her obligation to her community and her friend to see his murderer charged. The book opens a window into a story that has become all too common in America and gives us vividly rendered and thoughtful characters to shed light on the impact of police violence in America and the many obstacles to overcoming it.
There There by Tommy Orange
4 stars. Through multiple narrators, There There tells the story of the Big Oakland Powwow, but more broadly the Native community of Oakland, the urban Indians who search for identity, community and belonging.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barke
3 stars. I think probably I have read too many books about the story of the Trojan War at this point, which contributed to my lukewarm feelings about The Silence of the Girls. I also went into the book with very different expectations—perhaps because of the title of just a misunderstanding on my part, I expected this book to follow the stories of many of the female figures in the Trojan War, from Helen to Cassandra. That isn’t the case. The Silence of the Girls is about one girl in particular, Briseis, a Trojan queen given to Achilles as a slave and war prize. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a better telling of that story, imho.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
4 stars. A study in unreliable narrators, Trust Exercise is set at a prestigious Southern high school for the arts. David and Sarah play the star-crossed lovers, with the kind of doomed romance common of first love, an all-consuming passion followed by confused silences and unspoken assumptions. The result is chaos, a self-destructive story of teenage love, angst, and rebellion. But Act 2 reveals that not all is as it seemed…
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
3 stars. I’m of two minds about this book. The entire time I was reading it, I was like “Do I really want to read 800 pages about a super-hot half-Fay, half-human girl trying to solve the murder of her best friend with a sexy brooding Angel?” And then I’d be like, “Eh, I’ll give it 20 more pages.” And here we are, I read the whole thing. If you’re in the mood for paranormal romance, this will certainly fit the bill. Pick it up as a sexy summer read.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
4 stars. In 1922, following the Bolshevik revolution, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel. The bustling international hotel is a world unto itself, and the Count remakes his life amidst the valets, bellhops, waiters, and chefs who live and work there. He becomes a student of humanity as he observes the guests who come and go, befriending young and old, from a little girl in yellow who likes to spy on her fellow guests to foreign journalists looking for an eye into Stalin’s socialist regime. We watch the events of Russia in the first half of the 20th century unfold through the eyes of this cloistered aristocrat.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
3 stars. Big Jim has been acting strangely. It all started when his eyeball fell out and he hasn’t been quite the same ever since. Now he’s down in the basement dragging his hands against the walls, barely eating, and the whole eyeball situation isn’t improving. And Shit Turd (S.T. for short) is concerned. Did I mention S.T. is a crow? Maybe should have started there. It’s a zombie apocalypse and this time history will be written by the birds.
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
3 stars. I picked up this historical fiction take on the Pilgrims of Plymouth as it was a place and time I had read little about. The story focuses on the tension between the wealthy religious colonists (those we typically think of as Pilgrims) and the indentured servants and other new arrivals who were generally poor and immigrated for financial rather than religious reasons. The premise sounded good, but I found myself constantly taken out of the story by the characters’ modern thoughts mixed with heavy-handed and inconsistent use of older English. The author doesn’t seem seasoned in writing historical fiction and needs to decide on their voice.
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
4 stars. I’m often drawn to fairy tale retellings and in recent years I’ve been trying to find versions that step outside of white-centered Anglo-European cultures. Hence I was drawn to this retelling of The Six Swans, reimagined into a fantasy East Asian culture. Shiori, princess of Kiata, and her six brothers are cursed by their stepmother. Her brothers become cranes and Shiroi is cast out of the capital and told that her brothers will die if she utters even one word. Shiori must use her hidden magical gifts and her unlikely friendship with a dragon to search for her brothers and find a way to break the curse.
Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente
4 stars. A moody novella set in a fantastical Prohibition-era hotel. The residents of the Hotel Artemesia are dreamers, artists, gangsters, and whores. Every floor has a story, a party, and a secret. Zelda Fair has a tiny door in her closet that wasn’t there before. Will she open it and fall down the proverbial rabbit hole?
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez
5 stars. The Riveras leave Mexico for their daughter Maribel, arranging for her to attend a special school in Delaware. Maribel has sustained a head injury that has damaged her ability to communicate and her language processing. The Riveras pin their hopes of her recovery on this school and the new environment in America—but neither are what they expected or hoped for. Maribel’s progress is slow and the family struggles to find acceptance and community in their new home. Maribel does make one new friend, her neighbor Mayor, who takes the time to find ways to understand Maribel when others have not. A moving story about the Latinx immigrant experience.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green
5 stars. A great follow-up to his debut novel. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor picks up where Green’s first book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, left off. Green’s first book was perhaps the best book I have ever read about social media’s magnetic draw, its powers of instant celebrity, and the perils and rewards of that potential. Foolish Endeavor focuses less on the power of individual celebrity (though that theme remains) and more on our collective obsession with virtual communities, their addictive power, and the perils of complete immersion on these platforms. And yeah, space robots, too.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
5 stars. One of my favorite books of the year, an atmospheric, nicely paced mystery. Piranesi is one of two known living beings in the House. Piranesi loves the House, spending his time cataloguing its infinite rooms and the countless beautiful statues that line its walls. He tracks the tides that ebb and flow through the halls of the House, bringing him useful things like seaweed and fish, but also causing dangerous floods. The Other is less enamored with the House. He has Important Work to do, work that Piranesi assists with since the Other seems never to venture farther into the House than the first few central rooms. From the author of Jonathan Strange and Nr. Norrell, Piranesi is a mystery that unfolds slowly and enticingly. Who is The Other? Can he be trusted? Who is Piranesi? And are there more living people in the House?
Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
5 stars. Book number 5 in an ongoing and worthwhile series. The Wayward Children series is loosely centered around a school for children who find doors to other worlds. This installment revisits two favorite characters, Jack and Jill, twins whose world is a bleak horror-film Moor populated by mad scientists and other monsters. There’s body snatching, there’s squid-pirate monsters, there’s reanimation, and it’s all pretty delightful.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
5 stars. Surprisingly funny and effortlessly readable. High school best friends Lillian and Madison have maintained a strange pen-pal relationship into their adult lives (strange because there are cell phones and who writes letter anymore anyway?), even as their circumstances have diverged dramatically: Lillian lives at home with her mother and works at a local grocery store while Madison married a wealthy politician and manages his campaign strategy. But Madison has a problem. Her husband has two adolescent children from a previous marriage and the twins’ mother has just died. Bessie and Roland will now be coming to live with Madison, her husband, and their young son. Oh, and the twins catch on fire. Literally. Madison asks Lillian to come and care for the kids and, if possible, keep them from bursting into flames. A story about trauma and parenting that’s so strange yet so relatable.
The Heavens by Sandra Newman
5 stars. Time travel can be very hit or miss but this one was a hit for me. Kate lives a bohemian lifestyle in the New York City of 2000, but it’s not the NYC you or I know. There are subtle differences, in world history, politics, infrastructure and more. Kate’s second life is in dreams though, when she lives in the late 1500s as the mistress of a wealthy man. Kate comes to realize that her actions in her “dream” life have real consequences in her waking life. The present is changing, and not for the better. Can Kate fix the present, or will her friends and family change before her eyes?
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
3 stars. Good premise but missed a little on execution for me. Deka lives in fear that she will be found impure in a coming-of-age ritual that takes place in her village when girls turn sixteen. At the ceremony, as she feared, Deka’s blood runs gold, marking her as an alaki, or demon girl. She is taken to the capital where others of her kind are being rounded up to serve in Otera’s army and eliminate unnatural creatures threatening the empire. My quibble with this book is that it built up a big mystery around Deka’s powers and heritage, and them info-dumped all the answers in the last couple chapters. All the “reveals” came so quickly that there was little time to process them as a reader and I was left wondering if everything even made sense. The characters also didn’t have much time to process. If the revelations had been spread out a bit more over the course of the book, the characters’ reactions and motivations would have felt more real, instead of just rushing along to a conclusion.
The Poppy Wars by R. F. Kuang
3 stars. This book had promise, but I had to knock it down to 3 stars for the dramatic shift in content for the last quarter of the book. This is a book about war, so violence is to be expected. But the graphically violent imagery in the last quarter is extreme and it was so unexpected because the first three-quarters is not graphic at all. I wasn’t prepared for the detailed descriptions of war atrocities and found it to be unrelenting and jarring. Ultimately, I won’t be picking up the next book in this series.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
4 stars. This is such a compelling and compulsively readable book. It strikes the perfect balance of sad and funny, relating difficult events in an almost bouncy manner. Eleanor thrives on simple and predictable routines. She has a long-standing day job that is not too challenging but that she is good at. She keeps to herself, makes simple meals, wears the same simple clothes, and drinks a bottle of vodka or two on the weekends. But all that changes when Eleanor sees a handsome singer at a concert, and decides to remake herself to win over a man she has never met. To me, it seemed quite clear that Eleanor is neuro-divergent, but interestingly I haven’t seen that interpretation in many other reviews. I think the book is more powerful and meaningful if you interpret Eleanor’s behaviors are both coping mechanisms for the things that happened to her in childhood but also an integral part of her identity. Eleanor’s (mis)adventures are heart-warming and moving, especially with the help of her new friend Raymond, who comes to understand the true Eleanor along with the reader.
The House by the River by Lena Manta
3 stars. I clearly ran into a streak of books that could have been 4 stars, but ended up as 3. For this one, I had to knock it down as I couldn’t agree with the very overt message of the book, which is that people only really belong and will be happy in the place of their birth and/or with their parents. The book begins in a small rural village in Greece where we meet a family with 5 daughters. Each dreams of leaving the village, and one by one they do (also annoyingly they are all described as incredibly beautiful, a bit of a family of Mary Janes). The sisters each pursue dreams of family, fame and fortune and each experiences success and happiness. But, quite predictably—and it’s not a spoiler to say this as it’s telegraphed throughout the story—each eventually is brought to ruin and experiences extreme loss, the only cure for which is to return to their childhood home and mother. The book has some nice storytelling, especially the details of each daughter’s life, but the formulaic ending didn’t resonate with me.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
4 stars. I read this one around Halloween and it was the perfect spooky but not scary tale. Socialite Noemí receives an odd letter from her cousin Catalina in which she rants about being trapped by her new husband’s family in a strange old house in the remote Mexican countryside. Noemí goes to see her cousin, thinking she may be ill and in need of more modern medical care in Mexico City. She expects a battle with Catalina’s husband over his wife’s condition, but nothing can prepare her for the strange airs and practices she finds at High Place. As Noemí uncovers the dark history of the Doyle family, we get a story that mixes colonialism and eugenics with occultism and fungi.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
3 stars. This is an example of a book that I probably would have really appreciated in college, but many years removed from being a student, it was just a bit too heady and focused on form over plot. If you too are an English major, it may remind you of Spoon River Anthology, and I do wonder if Saunders was inspired by that text. The story utilizes two distinct narrative structures: one section tells the story of the Lincoln family through quotations from both real and fictional “historical texts”—letters, essays, articles, etc. This section attempts to show how the historical record can vary greatly based on the point of view of the writer. Mundane details from a dinner party at the White House are described in contradictory ways by the many attendees—the moon was full, there was no moon, the moon was a yellow sliver in the sky, etc. The second connected trope is first-person narration by the ghosts in a cemetery where Lincoln’s son has been buried. The ghosts do not really understand or accept that they are dead and use various euphemisms for their condition. They are focused on sharing their stories and also watching as Lincoln visits his recently deceased son. The story idea is interesting, but in execution the book is just that—an interesting idea, but not a truly engrossing read.
Hail Mary by Andy Weir
5 stars. I was surprised by how much I loved this book and how I still think about it months after reading. I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but this book is so approachable and just so funny, too. Who would have thought a book with this much math could be such a treat? I don’t want to spoil the most delightful part of the book, so I’ll just let you know it’s worth a read. Ryland Grace is on an interstellar mission to save humanity—probably. He can’t quite remember. He didn’t even remember his name this morning, OK, so give the guy a break.
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
5 stars. I ended the year strong with one of my favorite reads of 2022. Twin sisters Laurel and Daphne share an obsession for language. Their favorite book as a child was the giant dictionary their father brought home and placed on a pedestal in the living room. The girls are inseparable in their childhood in a way that makes even their own mother a bit nervous, and their closeness continues into adulthood when they move into an apartment together in New York City. It isn’t until they both get married—in a double wedding, of course—that their lives start to diverge, and that divergence throws a rift in the bond that seemed unbreakable. I love family stories that are well told, and this is one that kept me engaged. There are little language nuggets for the word-obsessed, but it’s also a very approachable story about siblings and friendship.
What were your favorite books of 2022? What’s on your list for 2023?