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Favorite Romance Novels of 2022

Favorite Romance Novels of 2022 | Leigh Kramer

Another year of romance saving my life. Simply so grateful for this genre and the many gifts it has brought into my life, from the stories themselves to the life-long friends.

I'm generally game for anything when it comes to romance but even I was surprised by how much I wound up loving a few of the horror romances I tried. I'm a wimp! And yet not only was I downloading those with glee, I was tearing through romances with murdery MCs and it was cathartic as hell. This year also brought some favorite new author discoveries. CL Beaumont and Daniel May are the most notable. I haven't stopped thinking about their books or their incredible prose. 

Whenever I was just not feeling whatever I was reading or had a string of DNFs, I turned to Noelle Adams or her edgier pen name Claire Kent. I don't know what it is about her stories but I zoom through them without trouble. Luckily, she has an extensive backlist so I'll be set for quite a while.

I've included a link to my Goodreads reviews at the end of each synopsis for anyone who needs content notes/warnings.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

Fave romance 2022

Contemporary Romance:

Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake

I will cut anyone who hurts Delilah Green. Claire was really great too but Delilah’s prickly self crawled right into my heart and I immediately felt this great need to protect her. Could she be a bit of a mess? Yes. Did she have big walls in place? Absolutely. And I think that’s why I loved her: those self-protective measures keep people out so she won’t be hurt but they also don’t let people in so she continues to feel unlovable. This is some of my biggest character catnip. It’s overall light in tone but instead of making me laugh, it made me cry a lot. That’s high praise: I deeply cared about these characters and was rooting for them to figure things out. It was such a satisfying read. (Content notes.)

 

The Truth of Things by Tasha Harrison

This book deserves all the recognition! There may be a prevalence of cop MCs in romance but few, if any, interrogate the system they work in. Not so here. My hat is all the way off to Tasha L. Harrison. She really swings for the fences with a clear-eyed look at systemic racism and police brutality. Levi is a Black cop who comes to the scene when Ava is being harassed by a different cop who broke up an altercation near her, an altercation that did not warrant a gun being immediately drawn on them. There are meet-disasters and then there’s this. Ava wants nothing to do with Levi but she has a hard time taking her eyes off of him when she goes to the precinct the next day to report personal property damage.

Ava is committed to social justice and she knows what Camden cops are like. But Levi is one of the so-called good ones (for real) and they start getting to know each other over the phone until he finally gets her to agree to go out with him. Levi was such a stellar character and I really liked what a great complement he was to her. At the same time, how could this possibly end well? I read with my heart in my throat and a pit in my stomach, nervous about what would happen. I was completely in Ava and Levi’s corner. They make a great team and they had such great chemistry. I couldn’t help but root for them to band together despite the circumstances life brought their way. This was heart-wrenching at times. I had so many feelings as I read: joy, despair, hope, frustration, delight, sorrow. This story ripped my heart out real good. Unfortunately, the second book in the duology didn't work as well for me but I still highly recommend this—while it ends with unresolved issues, Ava and Levi still get their HEA. (Content notes.)

 

Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon

Angst-lovers, this one’s for us. It’s the exact kind of story I’ve been missing. Gorgeous writing, layered characters, great angst. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry…is there anything better? It was such a magical reading experience. Rowan and Harry snuck into my heart from their meet-disaster of a beginning. Rowan won’t risk a serious relationship and Harry doesn’t know how to do casual. They kept getting in their own way, which made my heart clench. I had such a hard time putting this down because I needed to see how it would all come together. This has such a strong sense of place. The way Devon wrote about flowers, plants, grapevines, and nature had me rapt. I wish I could go visit the vineyard and book a stay the bed and breakfast once it’s ready. Similarly, the secondary characters were just as well-developed as Harry and Rowan. The Brady family was absolutely wonderful. I will never tire of a watching a big loving family embrace someone who believes they’re unlovable. People feeling like they don’t belong or like there’s something fundamentally wrong with them is my catnip. My angsty soul is thoroughly satisfied and grateful to have read this. (Content notes.)

 

Strings Attached by Suzanne Clay

Friends to polyamorous lovers! This was such a treat of a novella. I really felt for April pining all those years. The way things evolved between her and Gavin was utterly compelling. I got such a kick out of Jillian’s advice and that she was part of setting things in motion. I would love to get a story about Jillian and her boyfriend next and then maybe all four together. (Content notes.)

 

The Enforcer (The Family #3) by Katrina Jackson

Katrina Jackson's brand of Italian mafia just plain works for me. Zoe is highly skeptical that both her cousin and sister randomly fell for these mafia men and she’s sure it’s not going to happen to her. But when they all need to split up for safety, Alfonso takes her to his family and we all know what happens when that kind of forced proximity comes into the picture. Alfonso is a henchman who is good at doing what he’s told…I did not expect that to also apply to the bedroom and I was very much here for it. It was HOT. Zoe is a force to be reckoned with and I loved seeing her rise to every occasion. I loved that they are both adamant about not wanting to have children. This story takes place over a short period of time and it ends with an HFN, one that made perfect sense to me. Alfonso is completely gone for Zoe, as well he should be, but she needs more time to figure out her feelings for him. It ends on a hopeful note for them and a cliffhanger setup for next book. (Content notes.)

 

Third Life (Second Best #2) by Noelle Adams

This series is utterly gripping. I could scarcely put this down! It wasn’t angsty like Second Best but it still made me cry in the end. Gillian has felt invisible for most of her life. After her mother’s recent death, she decides it’s time for a fresh start and plans a vacation for a one night stand, not expecting to ever meet someone like Richard. Because Richard seems way too out of her league, she’s different with him than anyone else and that winds up being what draws them together. It’s supposed to only be casual: they meet up in different cities around the world for a hot weekend. At first this works but then Gillian realizes she wants more. She’s pragmatic, which I found refreshing, I appreciated the way she went after the life she wanted, even when the way forward wasn’t certain. What can I say about Richard? He was debonair and emotionally repressed. My catnip. I loved watching the evolution of their relationship and what needed to happen for it come together. (Content notes.)

 

Fave romance 2022 2

Holiday Romance:

Season of Love by Helena Greer

Set at a Jewish-run Christmas tree farm, Noelle and Miriam are initially at odds when they discover they’ve inherited the farm, along with Miriam’s cousin Hannah and Hannah’s ex Levi. Miriam has been away for the past ten years and Noelle is unaware of her reasons why—but she has strong opinions anyway. They’re both grieving Cass’s death and emotions are high when Miriam decides she’ll stay to get Carrigan’s through this holiday season to Noelle’s chagrin. The evolution from there was an absolute delight but this is NOT a romcom. In addition to grief, it delves into healing from trauma. It has sneaky angst and it made me cry. Miriam is estranged from her abusive father but she also distanced herself from everyone else in the process. It takes time to heal from abuse and learn new ways to respond to conflict. This is true for Miriam, as well as Noelle, and it was so good to see them start figuring things out. They’re not magically fixed by love but they are certainly better for having each other. An amazing crew of secondary characters round out the cast, forming one beautiful found family. I adored them all. (Content notes.)

 

Historical Romance:

Names for the Dawn by CL Beaumont

An astoundingly well-written romance set in early 1990s Alaska about a gay trans white American park ranger and gay Pakistani-Indian wolf biologist. The richness of the characters and strong sense of place made for an unforgettable read. Will has forged the life he wants, to a degree. He’s a park ranger. He’s living as the man he always knew he was. But no one knows that he’s trans or gay. He’s deeply closeted, steeled for rejection at every turn. The isolated landscape mirrored how Will has isolated himself. Will wants to be seen but the risks are real and he doesn't believe he'll ever be loved. And then he meets Nikhil, much lauded in his field and in Denali for research. Nikhil is isolated in his own ways too. The story alternates between the summer they met and one year later. We know something tore them apart but not what or how that barrier will be overcome. I felt so deeply for Will and Nikhil, completely invested in how they could possibly get to their HEA. Their intimacy built in such lovely, thoughtful ways, making for one satisfying romance. 

Names for the Dawn is the angsty book I've been longing for. This is a languorous, interior book. It’s not that things don’t happen; how the characters feel about these situations matters more. It made me cry several times—my highest praise. This was heart-wrenching and then some and not always in ways I might have guessed. What impressed me beyond the characterization and structure was the writing itself. I highlighted and re-read so many passages, just taking them in. It’s not just that the writing itself is beautiful, although it absolutely is. It’s the way Beaumont writes with care for his readers. There’s nary an emotionally manipulative plot choice. Everything that happened felt earned. I was able to trust where the author was taking me, even when he was ripping my heart out. It’s one of the best romances I’ve ever read. (Content notes.)

 

Heart of Stone by Johannes T. Evans

Do you need an exquisite slow burn with intense pining and longing glances? Look no further than this historical paranormal romance. Angsty, yearning, gloriously moving. Vampire Henry hires Theophilus as his personal secretary. Henry is lonely and touch-starved but also a completely vivacious, lively character. He’s intensely interested in Theophilus’s opinions, whereas Theophilus is completely baffled by this and wants to maintain propriety. We get different vignettes of their interactions as their relationship grows from employer-employee to friends to (much later) something more. The story focuses on small intimacies and I ate it up. There are lingering gazes upon wrists and contemplation of faces. This book felt revelatory. There’s something deeply loving about all of the characters, in and of themselves but also the way they look out for each other. It has a broader sense of community than your typical historical romance. Then there’s the writing itself, utterly gorgeous prose. What a wonder. (Content notes.)

 

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles

When in doubt, turn to KJ Charles. This was a breath of fresh air. Robert sends his editor Henry essentially a companion manuscript to his popular Casebook of Simon Feximal. Only in this version, Robert writes himself back into the narrative about his partner through this collection of stories covering their first five years together. Robert and Simon met because of a ghost and they became further embroiled because of Simon’s work as a ghost-hunter. That age old formula for love, you know. This was crisp, entertaining, creepy, and sneakily angsty. I adored hearing about Robert and Simon’s cases and how they took care of each other and learned what it means to really love someone, no matter the cost. (Content notes.)

 

HC Union romance faves

Fantasy Romance/Steampunk/Urban Fantasy:

The Kraken King (Iron Seas #4) by Meljean Brook

Adventure and intrigue, an author FMC, and a MMC who says he will come for her, no matter what, AND THEN HE DOES. I swooned so hard over Ariq and Zenobia’s story. Zenobia is considered to have a plain appearance and she’s become very pragmatic about her options as a result, especially since past suitors have only wanted her for her money or access to her brother. She struggles to believe Ariq really wants her and oh how my heart ached. Ariq knows who he is, what he wants, and how to see things through. I loved the way he persevered and endeavored to prove to Zenobia that he was with and for her. He would never contain or limit her. And she wants to be by his side to support him. They made such a fantastic team. I thoroughly enjoyed the meta element of the adventure stories Zenobia writes. This had such good angst and it made me cry a couple of times. I could not have loved this more. (Content notes.)

 

Sapphire Flames, Emerald Blaze, and Ruby Fever (Hidden Legacy #4-6) by Ilona Andrews

*This series was published by Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins. The HarperCollins Union has been on strike since November 10, 2022. They deserve a fair contract, living wages, and an inclusive workplace. It’s disheartening that HarperCollins has yet to meet these reasonable requests. Learn how to support the union here.*

I saved Catalnia's arc of the Hidden Legacy series until Ruby Fever releases. I did not want to deal with the cliffhangers! It was worth the wait. Only sharing thoughts about Sapphire Flames here so as to avoid giving spoilers. Catalina was an absolute badass. She’s head of the House now and she’s good at it, even if she’s scared half the time. I loved seeing her siren power in action. Her long-time crush on Alessandro made for such an interesting dynamic, as well as highlighting her belief that she’ll never know what love is like due to not trusting her power’s effect on people she’s interested in. This was heartbreaking but it also made for great tension with Alessandro. There are big barriers between these two but Alessandro was clearly just as gone for her, even if she struggled to see it. This is going to be one slow, delicious burn. (Content notes for Sapphire Flames, Emerald Blaze, and Ruby Fever.)

 

Entreat Me by Grace Draven

Meet my new favorite Beauty & the Beast retelling. Draven upped the ante by giving us not one but two pairs of Beautys and Beasts. Louvaen and Ballard are the primary couple and the secondary is Louvaen’s sister Cinnia and Ballard’s son Gavin. Cinnia is a traditional Beauty, whereas Louvaen is often described as a shrew or a harpy. But really, she’s just a pragmatic, hard-working widow doing her best to take care of her overly trusting sister and incompetent father. Louvaen has all my respect and admiration. She was the true star of this story.

Ballard and Gavin have been cursed for 372 years by Ballard’s wife Isabeau who died after giving birth to Gavin. Gavin’s curse didn’t manifest until he was around 12. This devastated Ballard and he decided to have his magician redirect Gavin’s curse to him instead so he’s taken on the burden completely. But once the curse is done destroying Ballard, it will turn to Gavin. Time is running out for Ballard and they’re despairing over ever ending the curse until Cinnia and Louvaen arrive. The story is driven by whether or not the curse will end. I was so worried for everyone, including the other inhabitants of the castle. My heart was in my throat half the time, just yearning for Ballard and Louvaen to be together. I loved them so much. Even though it follows the beats of the source material, it has interesting twists and nods. A magnificent retelling. (Content notes.)

 

Erotic Romance:

A Fresh Taste of Ink trilogy by Daniel May

I love when authors make a liar out of me. Infidelity has always been one of my hard limits. There’s no sugar coating Trinket’s choice to cheat on his boyfriend. Knowing the trilogy is about the evolution from infidelity to committed triad helped me enjoy the ride. Trinket, Mini, and Zee made for one unputdownable, incendiary read. This was hot, hot, HOT. The characters are what makes this work. I genuinely liked each of them. I have a strong sense of who they are, in spite of knowing very few specifics about them. I know what makes them tick, what they desire and what they’re embarrassed about. Trinket is cheating on Zee, yes. He’s not necessarily in denial about that fact but he doesn’t think too hard about it either. He’s deeply in love with Zee but there’s something he’s getting from Mini that he also needs. And what he gets from Mini feeds his relationship with Zee, apart from the fact that Zee doesn’t know. There is something symbiotic happening between the three men and the tattoos and the secrecy and I couldn't get enough of it. Highly recommend the whole trilogy. Daniel May has incredible range and I've enjoyed everything else that I've tried by him. (Content notes.)

 

Dark Romance:

Mindf*ck series by S.T. Abby

I would sell my soul for Lana and her vigilante justice. She’s become one of my very favorite romance FMCs. Lana is a female serial killer who falls for the FBI agent who’s unknowingly investigating her crimes. Talk about a good setup. It’s compelling as hell, especially given how good she is at profiling and how she can help Logan with his cases. Lana has good reasons for killing these men and I’m 100% on her side. Now I’m not going to lie: what she does to them is grisly but what they did to her was worse and frankly, torture is too good for them. With twists and turns aplenty, I wasn’t sure how things could possibly resolve. All I knew was I needed everyone in Delaney Grove to suffer and then I needed Lana and Logan to get their HEA. While we do get an HEA, ST Abby makes her readers work for it, which made it that much more satisfying for me. This series is very dark (heed the CWs) but it's also cathartic. If you can handle some blood and gore—and I’m saying that as a general wimp—and the CWs aren't sensitive issues for you, it’s well worth the try just to experience the magnificence of Lana. (Content notes.)

 


Favorite Nonfiction of 2022

Favorite Nonfiction of 2022 | Leigh Kramer

After a couple of years of reading way less nonfiction than usual, I seem to be back on track and I couldn't be happier about it. I accepted that due dates are the best way to get me to read the nonfiction I want to read and so I've been back on the "library first" train. Every book on this list came up in multiple conversations with friends. I couldn't help but want to discuss the contents and convince my friends to read them too. They're that good.

I've included a link to my Goodreads reviews at the end of each synopsis for anyone who needs content notes/warnings.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

Fave nonfiction 2022

Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends by Marisa G. Franco

An instructive look at friendship through the lens of attachment theory. The author, a psychologist, makes a strong case for why we need to prioritize friendship more, as well as how these relationships take work just like any other—and they’re worth working on. It’s an engaging read, with a blend of research, anecdotes from her own life, and practical tips. As a single woman, I’m already a believer in the power of friendship and I’m always interested in deepening those relationships. This provides a good gut check about the kind of friends we are and potential areas of improvement.

This wasn’t necessarily new information but it was helpful to have it packaged together in one place. It has the potential to really revolutionize friendships for people who haven’t put the same time and energy in as their romantic or familial relationships. I particularly appreciated the chapter on managing conflict and the helpful scripts provided throughout. (Content notes.)

Disclosure: I received a free advanced copy from G.P. Putnam’s Sons in exchange for an honest review.

 

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

Given the impact Quiet had on me, I shouldn’t be surprised by how much this resonated. There’s a Bittersweet Quiz so people can assess their temperament. It said “if you score above 5.7, you are a true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet.” My score was 8.9. Cain makes a case for bittersweetness as both a strength and a source of wisdom and connection. It’s basically my entire personality as an Enneagram Four and I felt incredibly seen and understood. But there’s so much to appreciate, no matter what personality type you are. (Content notes.)

 

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

Not only the best music writing I’ve ever encountered but one of the best essay collections I’ve ever read, which also touches on pop culture and current events. I loved the wide range of musicians and the deeply moving connections he made. The essays related to misogyny, suicide/suicidal ideation, racism, and grief were particularly strong. Simply phenomenal. (Content notes.)

 

In Transit: Being Non-Binary in a World of Dichotomies by Dianna Anderson

A valuable, accessible resource exploring the history and evolution of non-binary identity. There’s some exceptional writing, especially in each chapter’s conclusion. Dianna Anderson is a long-time internet friend and I knew I could count on them to explain theory in a way that would be easy to understand. They did a great job teasing out the relationship between non-binary people and the LGBTQ+ community and how this has changed over the years. As a cishet woman, I really appreciated their callout in chapter 9 for cis people to recognize their own biases and bigotry. The questions are helpful reflection points and I plan on taking my time with them. (Content notes.)

Disclosure: I’m friendly with the author.

 

The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley

ALT was a force to be reckoned with, an irrepressible personality and a font of fashion history. The first half was a dishy delight, going into the who’s who of the fashion world and displaying the fullness of his wit and knowledge of the industry. The second half was more somber and searching as he experienced loss and delved into the rifts with Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld. With each story, he was seeking acknowledgment and affirmation that his contributions mattered. That he mattered. He had a strong sense of duty that could lead to misplaced loyalty. My heart ached over the way he was treated by some of the most important figures in his life. And that’s not even getting into the racism and microaggressions he experienced as a Black gay man within the still largely white halls of the fashion industry. He made a difference where he could, perhaps not as much as some would hope but he still made an impact. There is a lot of name dropping and I ate it up. He moved through a lavish world that I can only imagine and I enjoyed living vicariously through him. I especially enjoyed learning the behind the scenes on various collections and the progression of his career. It’s notable who he mentions and who he does not. (Content notes.)

 

 

HC Union nonfiction faves

Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig

*This was published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins. The HarperCollins Union has been on strike since November 10, 2022. They deserve a fair contract, living wages, and an inclusive workplace. It’s disheartening that HarperCollins has yet to meet these reasonable requests. Learn how to support the union here.*

Rebekah Taussig issued an important invitation through this essay collection. Her essays are a blend of vulnerability, humor, and education. I felt as if I was in conversation with her and perhaps that because she’s a teacher by background. Her essays are nuanced and considered. They had my mind racing with possibilities. But also, her prose is gorgeous and a treat to read.

Taussig is purposeful in opening up about her life as a wheelchair user to show just how ableist our society is. No matter your knowledge or experience of disability, we need to think about the environment and people around you, as well as the ways you might perpetuate ableism. Accessibility benefits everyone. Taussig deftly shows this in example after example. Because here’s the thing: we will all likely experience disability at some point. As we age, our bodies and abilities change. It boggles my mind why this isn’t already a consideration for stores, restaurants, and venues. We have an opportunity to address ableism and discrimination and I hope we will take it. (Content notes.)

 

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

This was a well-researched and enraging read about the opioid epidemic. Investigative journalism at its finest—I’m in awe of how Patrick Radden Keefe structured this and how many connections he brought to light. The Sacklers had every opportunity to do the right thing and chose not to. Not only did they deny wrong-doing, they used their wealth and power to evade accountability. To this day, they have not apologized. I’m glad the truth is out there and can only hope they will be held accountable someday. Eat the rich. (Content notes.)

 

How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing by KC Davis

Truly excellent. This made me cry good tears. Written with care and compassion, her concepts are easy to adapt to your specific needs. While I don’t struggle with the care tasks she spends the most time on (e.g. dishes, laundry), the first half of the book helped me reframe a task that had plagued me for months—and I was finally able to cross it off the list. For that alone, I’m grateful. Highly recommend for anyone dealing with mental health issues or trauma and anyone who is neurodivergent or generally overwhelmed. (Content notes.)

 

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

As good as everyone said. I never would have read this if not for all the rave reviews as I’m not familiar with the author or the shows she was on. This is more in the vein of narrative non-fiction and goes deeper and is more thoughtfully written than many other celebrity memoirs. McCurdy clearly did a lot of processing and healing before writing this. She deserved so much better than the cards she was dealt. Knowing she’s in a better place now is a relief. It’s incredibly intense so please consider the CWs, especially if you have a history of disordered eating. McCurdy is a gifted writer and I’m glad she had the opportunity to share her story. (Content notes.)

 

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O'Rourke

The author shares an insightful, honest account of her chronic illnesses, from her family’s narratives around illness to the doctors who dismissed her symptoms. She was eventually diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, endometriosis, POTS, Lyme disease, and hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It was unfortunately a long road to getting those diagnoses. But the doctors weren’t failing her out of callousness necessarily so this book is also an exploration of the Western model of medicine and how that impacts those living with invisible illnesses.

She writes with a lot of compassion for herself as she was trying to find answers, as well as others seeking diagnosis. If you’re in a similar boat, I think you’ll be encouraged to keep going but please exercise caution as needed as she goes into a lot of details about the ups and downs that could prove to be difficult depending on where you’re at. For those of us on the other side, I don’t think her intention was to show readers how they can be better friends or partners to those with chronic illness but it’s there all the same. She examines a number of issues, including why doctors find it easier to dismiss symptoms than listen to patients and why the tests themselves can be inaccurate and what actual health looks like when living with a chronic illness. Luckily, there are also doctors who are trying to change how things are done and who are innovating within the field. With the rise of long COVID, the author is hopeful we’ll see a changing tide and patients across the board will receive better care for symptoms that aren’t straightforward. (Content notes.)

 

 

Favorite Nonfiction of 2022  Leigh Kramer


Favorite Fiction and YA of 2022

Favorite Fiction and YA of 2022 | Leigh Kramer

This year I read 278 books, 63 novellas, and 5 short stories. Pretty similar to last year's numbers. This was the second year in a row with fewer 5 star reads. Luckily, I still had a fair amount of standouts.

The biggest difference in my reading life came from a book buying challenge. Any book I bought, I had to read it within 30 days of purchase. The results were illuminating! Not only did I keep up with my new-to-me books and ebooks, my Unread Shelf decreased drastically. At the start of 2022, I had 158 unread print copies. At the start of this year, that number went down to 71. I'm in shock! There were a lot of DNFs for my older purchases (reading tastes change) but I also did some aggressive culling. If I ever change my mind about the books I got rid of, I'll get it from the library. Now my unread ebooks from before 2022 are a whole other matter but I'm chipping away at those too. It feels liberating to have the extra space and I cannot underscore enough how much I've enjoyed buying a book and immediately starting it, something I've rarely done as an adult. 

I've included a link to my Goodreads reviews at the end of each synopsis for anyone who needs content notes/warnings.

Still to come: my favorite romance novels and nonfiction of 2022.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

HC Union fiction faves

Favorite Fiction

Everyone in this Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Not a week has gone by without me thinking about this book. That's how much I loved it. If any part of “depressed anxious atheist lesbian accidentally gets hired by a Catholic Church to be their new admin” appeals to you, please give this litfic a try. Gilda has a wry sensibility and her observations (and confusion) about the Catholic Church were a delight to read. I was firmly in her corner as she was trying to make sense of her life and the situations she got herself into. Gilda has a huge heart and her quest to make other people happy comes at her own expense. She wouldn’t want to make the parishioner who wants to set her up with her brother sad (plus she can’t be honest about not being into men) so she goes on a date with Giuseppe. But then she doesn’t want to make him sad so she keeps responding to his texts and calls and going out with him. All while she’d rather be with her girlfriend Eleanor. Oh Gilda. Her mental health progressively deteriorates, starting out with panic attacks at the beginning and leading to increasingly more self-harming behaviors. (Please heed the content warnings and proceed with caution as needed.) This was such an accomplished debut that made me laugh and cry. Brilliantly written and an honor to have experienced a character like Gilda. The ending was perfect. (Content notes.)

 

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Very meta bookish mystery and absolutely brilliant! It’s a book within a book. I was entranced by how it built and layered upon itself. The beauty lies in the discovery. It got quite creepy toward the end and I was worried about multiple characters. I was also patting myself on the back as my hunches paid off—but the story definitely kept me guessing and I truly had no idea about the why of it all. I definitely want to try more by this author. (Content notes.)

 

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

What a warm hug of a story! The denizens of Nowhere House are the loveliest found family I’ve encountered in a while. I wish I could go visit, practice spells with the Irregular Witches, and drink Mika’s special tea blends. This is about belonging and making a mark on the world around you—believing that you matter. Mika has never belonged anywhere and it’s hard for her to trust that Nowhere House could be a place where she can stay. I loved everything about her journey. There’s also some sneaky angst that made me cry. This is fantasy with a strong and satisfying romance arc. Mika and Jamie were grumpy-sunshine perfection. It’s a slow burn but what a payoff. (Content notes.)

 

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

It's months later and I still haven't found the words to encapsulate this singular reading experience. How do I describe the shining sharp diamond that is Feyi? What do I tell you about the way she felt her way toward love again (or at least lust) after the death of her husband five years prior? What can I possibly say about Feyi’s effervescent best friend Joy, who was a literal breath of fresh air every time she was on page? Then there’s Feyi’s artwork, the embodiment of her grief and the story of her survival. Things are so often messy when we take steps back toward life the way that Feyi is. Grief is an unruly, imperfect process, especially when one person survived the accident that killed their loved one. It’s taken five years for Feyi to even think about being with someone else. Sex is her way forward—this story really starts off with a bang—but she can’t imagine another romantic relationship and going through this pain again. I loved how confident she was even in the face of her fears and the way she advocated for herself through the ups and downs.

This is showing up on many people's Favorite Romance lists but I found it to be contemporary fiction, hence why I haven't even mentioned Feyi's love interests here. I lay things out in my Goodreads review. Regardless of how I personally classify it, I hope Emezi will write more in this vein.  (Content notes.) 

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

*This was published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins. The HarperCollins Union has been on strike since November 10, 2022. They deserve a fair contract, living wages, and an inclusive workplace. It’s disheartening that HarperCollins has yet to meet these reasonable requests. Learn how to support the union here.*

17 year old Lenni and 83 year old Margot may seem like unlikely friends on the surface but they were immediately kindred spirits they first time they saw each other in the hospital art room. I loved the way their friendship grew and the way they doled out stories from their lives as they worked on their art project. They’ve both had a rough go of things—see the content notes for more details. Lenni’s parents are uninvolved so it was beautiful to see her find a support network within the hospital walls. In addition to Margot, she has the hospital chaplain Father Arthur. I enjoyed how much she befuddled him with her questions about God and that they could develop a friendship without Arthur feeling the need to proselytize.

Lenni is one of those irrepressible characters. She was funny, spirited, and honest about her fear of dying. We know from the start how it’s going to end, making for a heartbreaking read. There were a few overly neat connections and I’m not sure the book benefited from the occasional POV from The Temp but those were minor in the face of how much I loved reading about Lenni and Margot. They made an impression on me and I won’t soon forget them. Isn’t that all any of us really want in the end? (Content notes.) 

 

Fave fiction 2022 2

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Epistolary literature doesn't always work for me so it’s a treat when I find an exception to the rule. Scientist Emily shares her field notes with us as she  faithfully records her observances and discoveries. Plus, footnotes! I was all in. She's in a fictional Scandinavian country to research the fae in the area. Ljosland’s fae have never been studied in depth before and they’re the final piece for the encyclopedia she’s been working on for years. It will be the pinnacle of her career. Emily alone does not a story make. She’s antisocial and abrupt and so focused on her work, she has no real idea how to interact with others. This might make her off-putting to readers at first but please hang in there because it’s worth it. Wendell, her colleague and only friend, surprises her by crashing her research trip. Wendell, who she suspects might secretly be fae. He was a treat! They have such a fun dynamic, in part because Emily has no idea what to make of him half the time. Plus, he is very clearly pining for her, even if he shares his affections elsewhere. They make an interesting team through kidnappings, cursed kings, and changelings. While what befalls Emily and Wendell is interesting in its own right, I was just as gripped by Emily going from antisocial loner to experiencing community for the first time. (Content notes.) 

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Oleander Sword (The Burning Kingdoms #2) by Tasha Suri

You never know what you're going to get when it comes to the second book in a trilogy. I’m thrilled this exceeded all expectations. The world-building expanded with even higher stakes—Tasha Suri seriously blew my mind. This was intense and riveting. Malini graduated from murder princess to murder empress. She’s firm in her conviction that she’s what will be best for the country but many barriers stand in her way as she leads the army toward the final confrontation with her brother Chandra. Priya is adjusting to her new powers as Temple Elder. Malini and Priya cannot afford to be distracted from their respective work but they long for each other all the same, leading to some beautiful letters while they’re apart. I was so happy their love story got a chance to unfold more. I adore them together and I am very concerned about how an HEA will ever be possible given the obstacles, which are LEGION. There's treachery and deceit aplenty and people (and gods) are not always what they seem. That ending!!! I need book 3 yesterday. (Content notes.) 

 

S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst

One of the most inventive and innovative reading experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a book about books and a book within a book, as well as a mystery and a burgeoning love story that takes place in the margins of a literary novel. How you read the story matters as much as the story itself. First, there’s Ship of Theseus, a literary novel about S. who has amnesia and is abducted onto a ship for reasons he doesn’t understand. It was the last book written by VM Straka, the much lauded author and activist whose identity is unknown. The translator FX Caldeira (also a pseudonym) includes an introduction and footnotes and also had to write an ending, as Straka had kept that back before he died. Second, there’s the correspondence between Jen and Eric conducted in the margins of SoT. They start out discussing the book and then begin to share about their lives and also other letters, maps, articles, and photos, which they leave in the pages. Suddenly, they’re thrust into a race to figure out Straka’s identity and keep themselves safe in the process. All while falling for one another. Jen and Eric’s conversation in the margins riveted me, especially once things started to get deeper and then more romantic. I can’t stop marveling over this whole experience. (Content notes and advice on how to approach the book.

 

Alpha (Ghost Mountain Wolf Shifters series) by Audrey Faye

Hayden is on a training run with Rio and Kel when they sense a pup and its mother being attacked by an alpha. They rush to help and Hayden winds up killing the alpha in the process, thus making him the new leader of the Ghost Mountain Pack. Samuel basically led a reign of terror over the pack for six years and there's so much fall out from that. This is Hayden's first chance to put his leadership abilities to the test. He can’t afford to fail. What follows is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to heal from trauma and rebuild, both for the survivors and for the new alpha. There are tentative steps and false starts and everyone doing their best, even when it’s hard to trust that the danger has passed and it’ll be okay in the end. Hayden has a lot of work to put the pack back together, while also holding the dominants accountable and keeping everyone else safe in the meantime. While the book is dealing with trauma, the story manages to stay balanced and interject lightness and levity wherever possible. This is hands down the most diverse wolf shifter book I’ve ever read. Lissa’s son Robbie has Down syndrome and he’s a baby alpha. There are queer characters. Race/ethnicity wasn’t handled as well as I would have liked but at least it’s not an all-white pack/world. I've read the first 6 books out of 9 in the series so far and the first four were perfect. (Content notes.) 

 

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

A moving portrait of friendship between two 80 year old women. Agnes and Polly have been friends their whole lives. They grew up with their Quaker families spending the summer at their homes in Fellowship Point, Maine and the rest of the year in Philadelphia. They have very different lives: Agnes is an author who never married or had children, while Polly is a people pleaser whose life is all about her children and mediocre husband. Leisurely paced literary fiction, the story focuses on their friendship over the years and Agnes’s desire to preserve the land at Fellowship Point so it will be protected once they’re both gone. It digs into their secrets, regrets, resentments, and the unsaid things that can accumulate in a relationship. It’s a layered, character-driven read, highlighting the effect of the different choices Agnes and Polly have made and where life has taken them. I’ll be reflecting on this story for years to come. Octogenarians were a refreshing change of pace and I hope we’ll see more along these lines in the future. (Content notes.) 

 

HC Union YA faves

Favorite YA

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

I came for the Arthurian retelling. I stayed for the rootwork, complicated grief, and generational trauma. What an accomplished, powerful start to the trilogy! Bree is grieving the unexpected death of her mother. She is not the same person anymore: she thinks of herself as After-Bree but she tries not to let the people closest to her realize how different she is. And then one night she realizes magic exists and that someone messed with her memory the night her mom died. She wants answers and she’ll do whatever it takes, right down to infiltrating a secret society on campus.

There are layers upon exquisite layers as the story builds. I was riveted by the unexpected connections and twists. Bree has a lot to figure out and adapt to as she learns about the Legendborn and navigates around the bigots. Then she has even more to learn once she discovers her mom was a Wildcrafter and that rootworkers refer to the Legendborn as “colonizer magic.” An Arthurian retelling that directly engages with racism within the legend and on the UNC campus?! It’s everything I never knew I always wanted. (Content notes.) 

 

Only a Monster by Vanessa Len

*This was published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins. The HarperCollins Union has been on strike since November 10, 2022. They deserve a fair contract, living wages, and an inclusive workplace. It’s disheartening that HarperCollins has yet to meet these reasonable requests. Learn how to support the union here.*

Who is the real monster? That's the question at the heart of this YA Fantasy. In this world, monsters look like humans but their monstrous ability allows them to steal time from a human life in order to power their own time travel. So if they steal 1 year, the human will die one year sooner and the monster can travel one year in time. It’s a subtle horror, knowing a monster could steal time and end your life earlier and earlier. Joan doesn’t know she’s a monster. When she accidentally time travels for the first time and learns the truth about her family, she’s horrified. There’s barely any time to make sense of it all before she and Nick, the human boy she was supposed to go out with, are accosted by a rival family who is going to take them out. Except it turns out Nick is actually the so-called Hero, the monster-slayer, and he and his people kill all the monsters in town, including the families of Joan and rival Aaron. This was devastating to read. There’s a race through time, the talents of various monster families, and grief underpinning it all. Whatever direction the trilogy goes from here, I’m in. I can’t wait for book 2! (Content notes.) 

 

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Elisabeth grew up in a library filled with grimoires, feeling most at home amongst books. Can you even imagine?! All she wants is to someday become a warden librarian but when she inadvertently foils a dastardly plan, her life takes a different turn, causing her to question everything she’s been told about magic and the world she lives in. Not to mention she has to team up with sorcerer Nathaniel when sorcerers aren’t to be trusted. Or are they? Nathaniel has his own reasons for being wary of Elisabeth. The connection (and banter) is real, no matter how they might try to resist it. Then there’s his demon Silas who tells Elisabeth he is to be feared, except he seems to actually love Nathaniel and care for Elisabeth. This was an extremely hard book to put down. There were so many delightful bookish elements along the way. Rogerson knows how to write an emotionally gripping plot, as well as how to let her characters grapple and heal from what’s happened. The ending was perfect. I need the next story stat! (Content notes.) 

 

The Bronzed Beasts (The Gilded Wolves #3) by Roshani Chokshi

Much as I've been desperate to learn the fate of our intrepid crew, I’m sad to have finished this series. Séverin, Laila, Enrique, Zofia, and Hypnos have become dear to me but given how much loss and treachery they’ve had to deal with, it’s probably best their adventures come to an end. They each got to shine—especially Zofia—in this installment. I really needed to know what the friends would make of Séverin’s perceived betrayal and the choices that got him there. The question of whether Laila will die drove the plot, in addition to Séverin and Ruslan’s quest for godhood. This made for such strong emotional arcs. I had a hard time putting this down. YA authors can make some bold choices and this was the case here. I’m sure people have very strong and conflicting opinions about the ending. It worked for me. It’s melancholy and bittersweet but it worked. (If you're new to the series, start with The Gilded Wolves.) (Content notes.) 

 

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

*This was published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. The HarperCollins Union has been on strike since November 10, 2022. They deserve a fair contract, living wages, and an inclusive workplace. It’s disheartening that HarperCollins has yet to meet these reasonable requests. Learn how to support the union here.*

What an honest, engaging delight of a YA novel! Michael is new in town. He’s also an atheist forced to attend a Catholic school. It’s just one more thing to hold against his father who broke his promise that the family wouldn’t move again. On his first day, Michael has the good luck of meeting Lucy who introduces him to the rest of his future friends, who just happen to be part of an unofficial club called Heretics Anonymous. They all have reasons they don’t feel like they belong at this school. Michael is the spark that gets them to do something about it, with mixed results. Michael could be entitled, judgmental, and completely misguided but he also listens and learns. We all make mistakes and teens all the more so. I kept rooting for him to do better or to make amends. He winds up grappling with religion in some interesting ways. (Content notes.) 

 

Favorite Fiction and YA of 2022  Leigh Kramer