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.
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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.)
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.)
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.)