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

Favorite Nonfiction of 2021

My goal the last couple of years has been to read more nonfiction and it's proven more difficult than I would have guessed. But I think I finally turned the corner this past year. Whereas audiobooks were key in 2020, lunchtime nonfiction reading changed the game for 2021. For several months, I would eat lunch and then read one chapter out of a couple of nonfiction books I had going.

I've long been a proponent of reading several books at once. It keeps things interesting and it keeps things moving, especially if you're not quite feeling one book or another needs more time to digest before you can move forward. I've almost always had at least one nonfiction read in the mix. This was the first time I made a dedicated, diligent effort to make continual progress on the ones that need to be read at a slower pace, instead of letting them sit at the bottom of the books stacked on my nightstand. The ones that held my attention the whole way through? Well, I still read them at lunchtime as well and if I was especially gripped, I'd read more at bedtime too.

I have to say I'm especially impressed by the nonfiction on this year's list. At least one is on my lifetime favorites list, plus a couple of resources I already refer to regularly. The memoirs were out of this world good. It makes me hopeful about this next year's nonfiction possibilities.

(If you want even more nonfiction recs, I recommend listening to The Stacks Podcast. Traci's interviews and book discussions are incredible. She's put so many great books on my radar, including a couple from this list.)

You can find my full reviews with content notes on Goodreads. I've included a link for each review. Feel free to give it a Like while you're over there!

This post contains affiliate links.


How the Word Is PassedHow the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

An absolute masterpiece. Smith explores the way we tell the story of enslavement and the way those narratives can help or hurt us. Beautifully written, he deftly balances his experience of visiting notable places, such as the Whitney Plantation and a Confederate cemetery, with robust research and his own family history. I was glad he included New York City and Gorée Island so we could have a fuller picture of the pernicious reach of enslavement. I haven't stopped recommending this one. It's among the best books I've ever read. (Content notes.)








Between Two KingdomsBetween Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

What a gift of a memoir! Gripping and poignant, the author shares her experience being diagnosed with leukemia at age 22 and then figuring out a new normal after the cancer went into remission. It’s divided into two parts, the titular two kingdoms: life with cancer and then life after cancer, which includes a road trip at age 27 visiting various people she’d corresponded with during treatment. This might be the first cancer memoir I’ve read by someone who went through it in their 20s. As such, it touches on things those other cancer memoirs don’t, like the impact on fertility and what it’s like to face a terminal illness when your adult life is supposed to be beginning. Her perspective was so valuable. Jaouad is a gorgeous writer. Her honesty and vulnerability stopped me in my tracks at times. I’ve walked alongside those who have cancer from both my personal and professional lives and I believe I'm good at doing so but this brought me to a closer, better understanding of what it’s like to walk in their actual shoes.

My library hold of this book came in in the midst of grieving a friend who died of cancer. I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of reading it now—would it hit too close to home? But I found it to be a surprisingly comforting companion, full of insights to my friend’s experience but also the process of grief. My experience of grief changes from year to year and season to season and this loss is no exception. In addition to grieving the ways cancer inherently changes one's life, Jaouad experienced the death of fellow patients and friends. I particularly appreciated the way she touched on rituals and meaning making. I suspect my own loss is the reason I cried while reading this. Yes, sad, hard things happen but I would not describe this as a sad book. It’s about growth and finding a way forward as much as it is about illness. It’s a much-needed exploration of survivorship and what it looks like on the other side. (Content notes.)



Seeing GhostsSeeing Ghosts by Kat Chow

I've been looking forward to Kat Chow's memoir ever since she announced it and it exceeded all expectations. A gorgeously written, luminous exploration of grief. It has a nonlinear structure with snippets of essays, some longer than others, and even this is reminiscent of how grief functions. Her mother died of cancer when she was 13 and I was fascinated by the way she sometimes experienced her grief by imagining or sensing her mother’s ghost. There’s so much to admire in how Chow chose to explore her own experience of grief, as well as her family history as a child of immigrants.

Her mother’s death was naturally a ripple effect of loss throughout their family, strikingly seen through her father now needing to be the primary caretaker. He is not suited for the role, nor did he step up to the plate, possibly due to an undiagnosed mental illness or neurodivergence. He hoards and lets the house deteriorate. He resists most of his daughters’ advice or help, while insisting they respect him since he’s their father. It was often hard to read these parts and I really felt for them. Chow writes with compassion and grace about their relationship, even in the struggle.

I’m so glad she wrote this book. (Content notes.)



Somebody's DaughterSomebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Ashley Ford is a tremendous writer. I’ve been looking forward to reading her debut memoir and it did not disappoint. Difficult to read at times—it deals with her trauma around abuse, rape, and sexual assault—and my heart ached for what she experienced but there’s such open-eyed grace woven in throughout. What I appreciated about her writing prior to this book and what remained true as I read this is her perspective as someone whose father was incarcerated. Very moving in places. I’ll be keenly interested to see where her career goes from here. (Content notes.)








Crying in H MartCrying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

A powerful and poignant grief memoir. At times, I was amazed by just how raw and honest the author was regarding some of the stories she shared. But overwhelmingly, I was lost in the pages of her story. Grief and loss don’t magically heal complex relationships, like the one Zauner had with her mom, especially given the stress of being a caregiver. There’s much she had to navigate and negotiate, even in terms of how present she should be once her mom was diagnosed.

I appreciated how she wove in stories from the past and present and how they illustrated an aspect about herself or her mom and then how that evolved after her mom died. Grief changes us and I found her reflections about what this meant for her Koreanness, and the way she sought to find connection through food, to be quite moving. I’m not sure that I’ll want to watch the adaptation but I’m very glad I read this. (Content notes.)






One LifeOne Life by Megan Rapinoe

I didn’t know a ton about Megan Rapinoe before reading this, outside of peripheral sports coverage and a few articles. This really exceeded my expectations and my admiration for her now knows no bounds. I loved learning more about her soccer career, of course, but the best part was hearing about her activism. Highly recommend listening to the audiobook, which she narrates. (Content notes.)









Hurts So GoodHurts So Good: The Science and Culture of Pain on Purpose by Leigh Cowart

A phenomenal exploration of the link between purposeful pain and pleasure. I’ve read my fair share of BDSM romance and erotica but I hadn’t thought much beyond the sexual application of masochism. Sure, we all joke about various things making us masochists but it’s so much broader than that. Some masochism is viewed as “normal” (eating hot peppers, running marathons, ballet dancing), while other forms are viewed as deviant or abnormal. There’s value in asking why and what purpose that serves. I will never think about it the same way again.

Cowart had me thinking through the times in my life when I have purposefully chosen pain in a brand new light, particularly when I was on the crew team in college. One of my proudest moments happened when I got a navel piercing twenty years ago and an employee watching exclaimed, “she didn’t flinch!” Or how about how nonchalant I’ve been while getting tattoos? There might be more of a masochist in me than I originally thought.

The exploration is careful to distinguish the “on purpose” part from abuse. Masochism is inherently consensual. If it’s not consensual, it’s abuse. But the author took the book a step further by exploring when pain on purpose is okay and when it can become harmful and the sometime difficulty in distinguishing between the two.

This won’t be for everyone, especially those with certain triggers. At the same time, I hope people can look past their associations and assumptions about masochism and give this one a chance. Cowart has such an engaging narrative voice and I really appreciated their approach. (Content notes.)



Minor FeelingsMinor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

A fascinating essay collection that touches on a range of issues, anchored by reflections on artists, authors, and their work. Hong’s writing is gorgeous and I can’t get over what she did with her prose and the multiple meanings of language. (Content notes.)









Sisters in HateSisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism by Seyward Darby 

Not an easy read but an important one nonetheless. By profiling three women in white supremacist movements, one of whom has gotten out, Darby shows the important yet complicated role women play in their growth. White women are typically viewed as nice and less threatening, thus enabling them to get away with more when it comes to propaganda and spreading hate. And yet misogyny is an intrinsic part of white supremacy movements and so women can only have so much power within them. This is an intersectional analysis not only of women in today’s current hate groups but those of the past. It was disturbing to read about the ways seemingly innocuous movements like tradlife are actually gateways toward white nationalism. The three profiles show the people in these hate groups are searching for meaning and purpose but also power and the way propaganda fuels those needs. As difficult as it was to read about such horrible rhetoric, it’s important for me as a white woman to be aware of what’s out there and to use it to interrogate my own beliefs, instead of just writing these people off. This isn’t a problem that’s going to disappear any time soon, thanks to the ways Trump emboldened white nationalists.

Toward the end of the book, Darby mentions Lana and her family moved to a Mennonite town and the people there were grappling with how or if to respond to known racists choosing to move there and what that might say about them. And yet because Lana and her husband don’t make any big waves, the town ultimately doesn’t do much and the wary complacency was chilling to read and explains so much about an under-explored piece in this discussion. What do you as an individual do when the white supremacist is your neighbor? Additionally, in the conclusion Darby mentions white liberals or progressives who made racist statements about her book’s subject matter. These are people who probably think they’re not racist and yet they said things that would have been echoed by the people Darby profiled. It’s the insidious nature of racism and how much it’s been embedded into our structures and systems. Too many white people think they’re fine because they’re not overt racists like Lana and Ayla but they’re a part of the problem too. This is why I’m glad that the conversation has turned toward being anti-racist. It’s imperative to keep the conversation going so we can battle the gaslighting and propaganda that unfortunately continues on. (Content notes.)



AceAce: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen

What a tremendous resource! I’ve become more familiar with the ace spectrum through reading romance but I haven’t felt like I fully understood asexuality before this. Chen does a great job of giving an overview through sharing her own experience, as well as that of many others. She also anchors this book in intersectionality and for that reason alone, I highly recommend it. This is especially important because asexuality first became known in white communities. It’s necessary to consider how centering whiteness impacts someone who is BIPOC or disabled and how asexuality intersects with stereotypes about different marginalizations.

There’s also an emphasis on asexuality as a liberation lens that benefits us all and I fully agree with this. This book gave me a lot more to consider regarding societal messages around sex and the ways we can need to improve. “The goal of ace liberation is simply the goal of true sexual and romantic freedom for everyone. A society that is welcoming to aces can never be compatible with rape culture; with misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia; with current hierarchies of romance friendship; and with contractual notions of consent.”

I’m so glad I read this book and have a feeling I’ll be recommending it frequently. Chen notes this book is geared toward people who aren’t ace but she also hopes aces will see their experiences reflected on the page as well. (Content notes.)



What Fresh Hell Is This?What Fresh Hell Is This?: Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You by Heather Corinna

I’m a cishet woman in my early 40s and I’m 99% sure I’ve started perimenopause so the release of this book was quite timely. The author is a queer nonbinary sex educator and there's a chapter from a trans woman, making for a super inclusive read. I’m glad I'll be able to recommend this widely without any reservations. It’s written in a conversational style and normalizes everything but also gives permission to be pissed off about it. It was reassuring to hear about what to expect and I learned a lot. My symptoms have been pretty mild so far (hope I didn’t just jinx myself) but I feel better equipped for if and when that changes. Cannot confirm or deny how many times I’ve brought up perimenopause in conversation with my friends while reading this. It made for great discussions! We should all be talking about this much more and I hope this book will help change the narrative. (No content notes.)

Note: I preordered another menopause book that released a week or two before this one but had to set it aside due to the gender essentialism. WFHIT is proof that it's possible to write a book on this topic that is both informative and inclusive. 



The Body Keeps the ScoreThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

What a powerful resource! I’ve meant to read this for many years and I’m so glad it finally came off my TBR. The mind-body connection is strong and there is much wisdom to glean from these pages, even if you haven’t experienced what we think of as extreme trauma. It gave me a few ideas to try for my own mental health and I'm grateful for that. This is more geared toward professionals and there’s an emphasis on how van der Kolk came to understand and then research trauma and what has proven effective in his practice. I was fascinated to read about the different studies, some of which I remember learning about in grad school when I got my MSW but much was new to me. van der Kolk makes a compelling case for us to be more mindful of the impact of trauma and to figure out ways of prevention. I found this to ultimately be hopeful, though we still have so much further to go. (Content notes.)






Favorite Nonfiction of 2021

Favorite YA of 2021

In 2019, I read more fantasy than contemporary YA. In 2020, I read more contemporary. Now I'm back to mostly fantasy, with a side of science fiction. I have no idea what's behind these subconscious trends! Regardless, this year's favorite YA really impressed me. Now I just need to start reading the next books in series in a timely manner so I can keep up.

You can find my full reviews with content notes on Goodreads. I've included a link for each review. Feel free to give it a Like while you're over there!

This post contains affiliate links.


Iron WidowIron Widow (Iron Widow #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

Give me all the morally gray FMCs! Zetian gave me so much life. She was a true murder princess (except she wasn’t actually a princess…but you know what I mean.) It’s cathartic to watch a female character decide she’s had enough of the patriarchy and not only fight back but seek vengeance.

This is YA science fiction, loosely inspired by the first and only female emperor in Chinese history, Empress Wu. Science fiction can be tricky for me. I couldn’t quite picture the Chrysalises they’re piloting or what the Hunduns were. Basically, the pilots are inside the head or chest of these huge robot mechs that look like East Asian mythical creatures. The pilots can further transform them depending on their qi, as well as the spirit force of their concubine-pilot.

Becoming a concubine-pilot is basically a death sentence for girls because few survive a battle—their life force basically gets sucked dry by the pilot. But Zetian not only survives, she kills the pilot who murdered her sister. And she’s not going to stop there. She was fierce and prickly and absolutely glorious in her fury. The council doesn’t know what to do with her. Frankly, they don’t want to use her and so she not only has to fight literal battles against Hunduns but also political intrigue and misogynous advisors who would rather see her dead.

Few people are as they seem and that includes Shimin, the pilot she’s paired with who is also an alcoholic and Death Row inmate. And then there’s Yizhi, her only friend and possible love interest from back home, who makes his way to the barracks. I loved Shimin and Yizhi with all my heart, especially Shimin. He was basically my catnip, all misunderstood and tortured. But don’t worry, there’s nary a love triangle here. We’ve got a polyamorous triad! However, it’s a very, very slow burn between these three. Things are heading in a promising direction but we’ve really only gotten a hint of what things could be like. The love story plot is smaller than I’d like and I’ll be eager to see how things develop in the next book. Because that cliffhanger ending? Brutal. I can’t wait to see what happens next! (Content notes.)



Perfect on PaperPerfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

I loved this book SO MUCH!!! It’s about a girl who runs an anonymous relationship advice business at school until someone figures out it’s her and kind of blackmails her into helping him get his ex-girlfriend back. At least, that’s what Darcy thinks.

Darcy is great at giving other people advice but she has a hard time figuring out her own problems, whether it’s her long-time crush on her best friend Brooke or how to get her distracted mom to pay attention to her. Or what exactly she thinks about her blackmailer Brougham. While I was very ready for her to accept that Brooke wasn’t into her and that she should turn her attention to Brougham instead, I was completely in Darcy’s corner. Things aren’t straightforward, especially when you’re in high school, and I was more than willing to go along for the ride.

This was such a fun and moving read. I loved how things developed between Darcy and Brougham. They take their time getting there but it gives the reader a chance to really see how they bring out the best in each other and how they understand each other. Brougham might be a rich boy but he's had a rough home life and Darcy did a great job looking out for him, just as he did a great job standing up for her.

I thought this did a great job exploring bierasure and internalized biphobia. Darcy is bi, no matter the gender of whoever she dates, but there are still people out there who would invalidate that experience. It doesn’t matter that Brougham is a guy. It doesn’t change who Darcy is or her bisexuality. I hope that message really sinks home for people. The Queer and Questioning Club at school was one of my favorite parts, especially due to a scene toward the end that made me cry. I’m a cishet woman and I kept thinking about what that scene would mean to my bi friends. Cue the waterworks. (Content notes.)



Cemetery BoysCemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Such a fantastic debut! Anxious determined Yadriel and irrepressible Julian had my heart from the beginning. I had an idea about who was behind Julian’s murder but I wasn’t sure about the how or why and I especially wasn’t sure if there could be possibly be a happy ending for these two. I mean, Julian is a ghost! I loved seeing how it all played out. The magic of this world made for compelling reading, especially what it comes to mean for Yadriel and his cousin Maritza (who deserves her own book), and it was nice to read a blood magic book that wasn’t as bloody as others I’ve read. I am so excited to see where Aiden Thomas’s career goes from here. (Content notes.)








A War of Swallowed StarsA War of Swallowed Stars (Celestial Trilogy #3) by Sangu Mandana 

I have been on pins and needles waiting to see how this YA space opera trilogy would resolve. While I haven’t yet read The Mahabharata (I decided to hold off until the trilogy ended), I know the original story does end not well for the characters involved and I’ve been worried about what that would mean for Esmae, Max, and their crew in this retelling.

Well. Let me tell you it was worth the wait. I don’t want to spoil one thing about how everything unfolded but I will say I’m impressed with how Mandanna let characters evolve and how she explored the notion of hope in the face of hopelessness and the tradeoffs we make. Esmae’s growth throughout the trilogy was a marvel to behold. I didn’t always know if she’d get there but I always enjoyed watching her figure it all out.

I adore the secondary characters (except for that awful mother and her general, of course.) Titania’s evolution as a sentient spaceship was particularly fun and unexpected. I got a kick out of her character glossary at the beginning. There’s also a great secondary FF love story, which was lovely to see. The alliances continued to shift and change and I loved what this revealed about everyone and what truly mattered. Plus, there are all the gods and what Amba makes of life as a mortal.

Then there was Esmae and Max’s relationship. This gave me so many feels! I cannot say enough good things about this trilogy. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Mandanna writes next. (Content notes.)



LakesedgeLakesedge (World at the Lake's Edge #1) by Lyndall Clipstone

What a lush gothic YA fantasy! I was completely captivated from the start. Leta is a complicated messy heroine, fierce and determined and not always able to see that she might get things wrong. At times this could be frustrating but then I’d remind myself that she’s only 17 and of course she’s going to screw up along the way. All she wants is for her brother to be okay and that plan gets thrown for a loop when Rowan comes along. Rowan who is being poisoned by the Corruption. Rowan who is the kind of misunderstood hero that makes me weak in the knees. Leta and Rowan get off on a very wrong foot at first and I ate up their verbal sparring with a spoon. Their relationship evolved in such a lovely way and I was here for each and every step they took toward one another.

Then there’s Lord Under, the god of death. Leta gave him her magic when she was young in order to save her brother and now they’re connected. I started to wonder if this was heading in a Hades-Persephone retelling direction. It’s not, at least not in this installment, but there are very strong nods. However, it’s definitely playing with the Death and the Maiden trope and I’m very interested to see how this plays out in book 2. The author said the sequel is going to have Orpheus and Eurydice vibes and I cannot wait.

All the secondary characters are fantastic. The way magic worked kept me riveted. I loved the way the estate becomes a character in its own right as it deals with the Corruption and the way the lake figures in. The gorgeous prose on top of the way the premise delivered really sealed the deal for me. Bring on book 2! (Content notes.)



The Silvered SerpentsThe Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves #2) by Roshani Chokshi

I adore the world Chokshi created for this historical fantasy heist story. The characters have my entire heart, even when they could be behaving better. Case in point: Séverin has really been through the wringer since the death of his brother and it’s led to some negative personality changes. He decides to bring the gang back together for one more job, whether they want to help or not. This installment is darker in tone compared to the first and that makes sense given the exploration of grief and the fact that Laila is now dying, not to mention Zofia and Enrique’s respective concerns. They’ve created a wonderful found family but it’s not functioning the way it used to, now that Tristan is gone and Séverin is off the rails himself. But there’s still so much heart there. I loved watching them try to solve the mystery, even when their respective connections started to fray. There were some fantastic twists and turns and holy buckets that ending!!! I have no idea how things are possibly going to work out and I can’t wait to see how they do. (Content notes.)






The Ghosts We KeepThe Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver

A fantastic YA grief novel, The Ghosts we Keep follows a nonbinary teen after the hit-and-run death of his brother. The book is structured with scenes from Before and After as we come to understand just what and who Liam has lost. Not only are they grappling with what an Ethan-less life means, their two best friends have pulled back at a time when he needs them most. How true to life to have to deal with more than one messy loss at once. My heart really went out to Liam.

I used to counsel grieving teens as part of my work as a hospice social worker and this struck me as a very accurate depiction of teen grief. Liam doesn’t always behave the best, nor is he honest about how he’s doing with the people who care, including his parents. His parents make a point of saying they’re figuring it out as they go, that there’s no roadmap for this and they might make mistakes. (I’m closer to Liam’s parents’ age so I was definitely wincing over how he treated them, whereas I’ve seen reviews from people closer to Liam’s age who thinks they were unfair. I thought they did a pretty good job.) I liked that Liam and Ethan had a complicated sibling relationship so the book offered a more even-handed portrayal of what Ethan was like—there is no placing the dead on a pedestal here. Liam was pretty self-absorbed and oblivious, somewhat understandably, but I was mystified that they didn’t figure out a big secret more quickly. As much as a I enjoy a good love story, I’m glad there wasn’t a romantic subplot. In this case, the focus really needed to be on bereavement and Liam was not in a place for anything more than finding new friends. It was such a moving read. (Content notes.)



Favorite YA of 2021