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If your TBR is overflowing, my best books of the 2022 just might help you narrow down your reading list.
Reading in 2022 was an excellent mix of books, with many of my favorite books of the year balancing heavier, darker themes with a lot of levity.
After focusing on lighter reads for my 2021 reading challenge, I felt ready to dive back into more of my usual heavier literary fiction.
Well, the world didn’t listen and finally lighten up this year, so the mix of serious and light has been welcome.
I continued to read books from my shelf for my 2022 reading challenge, and some of those landed on my list of best books of the year.
I’d love to know yours!
Favorite Books of 2022
Arlo Dilly is a DeafBlind man in his twenties. He is bright and curious, but also isolated within his Jehovah’s Witness community and by his controlling uncle. When Arlo decides to take a college writing course, interpreter Cyril reluctantly agrees to the assignment, uncertain of his tactile sign language skills. Cyril and Arlo soon open new worlds to one another, as Cyril teaches Arlo about the rights he never knew he had, and Arlo shows Cyril what it means to be brave and take risks for love.
I loved this story for so many reasons. I was not familiar with tactile signing or much about deafblindness at all, and I learned so much by reading both Arlo’s and Cyril’s points of view. Aside from all I learned, the characters were fantastic, with rich backstories, flaws, and so much heart. There are many serious themes in this book, but the relationships and quirky characters (including an elderly guide dog and an eccentric Belgian) added levity and delight.
Elizabeth Zott is a chemist–not an easy profession for a woman in the 1960s. As she battles daily discrimination, she finds some measure of contentment with Calvin Evans, a famous chemist whose quirks pair well with her own. When tragedy strikes, Elizabeth is left a single mother, kicked out of the lab, and desperate. Circumstances land her on camera, teaching the chemistry of cooking and captivating the country.
Overly progressive characters in historical fiction sometimes ring false, but Elizabeth Zott is singular and wonderfully drawn. Her precocious daughter and clever dog only add to the charm. The cover may make you think this is a rom-com, but the romance is only part of the story. I loved this.
When Sarah Foster runs away from home at 16, she leaves behind her first girlfriend, found dead in a lake, and the understanding that people in her life may have been involved. Starting from nothing is hard, but she makes her way into bartending and soon becomes famous for her creative signature cocktails.
When she meets Emilie at a restaurant, their connection is instant. But both have complications from their pasts that make it difficult to fall into a relationship. As they ebb and flow toward and away from one another, they start to understand how they might fit together.
This was a lovely story, with complex, sensitive characters and relationships. This is LaCour’s debut adult novel (she usually writes YA) and I hope she continues to write for adults.
In a small Washington town, the horrifying deaths of two teen boys shock everyone. Daniel’s father, Isaac, mourns his son and grapples with his anger, turning to his Quaker faith. Jonah’s mother, Lorrie, struggles with guilt.
When Evangeline, a pregnant teen girl comes into their lives, she offers both hope for new beginnings–and the possibility of answers to the questions that plague them. Told in alternating voices of imperfect characters, Tompkins weaves a riveting literary mystery and sensitive examination of tragedy and grief.
Charlie is a bit of a rebel, but she’s eager to start at River Valley School for the Deaf, a boarding school where she will learn sign language, meet other deaf people, and finally fully communicate with the world. Austin is a popular student from a long line of deaf family members–and his new baby sister is shaking up his usually solid world. February, meanwhile, is the headmistress who is fighting to keep the school open (and her marriage intact).
There’s a lot happening in this novel, and in addition to fantastic characters and an absorbing story, it’s filled with revelations about Deaf culture and rights, language, cochlear implants, and so much more. Don’t miss this one.
Emily Henry’s rom-coms are must-reads for me, not least because they often feature…well, book lovers, but also because they always feel like a little more than a rom-com. Both Beach Read and The People We Meet on Vacation offered interesting backstories, and Book Lovers is no different.
Nora is a literary agent, proud of her independence and tough reputation. When her sister wants to take an extended vacation to the site of Nora’s client’s hit novel, they make a checklist of Hallmark highlights they need to complete. Nora doesn’t really believe she’ll have a charming small-town romance, especially not with Charlie Lastra, a cranky literary editor who happens to be from the town.
While I didn’t love this quite as much as Henry’s first two novels, it still includes the great banter and emotional connections that made them great–and it’s excellent on audio.
I spent several weeks listening to The 1619 Project: a New Origin Story, which expands on The New York Times Magazine’s original 1619 project, described as such: “The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
The audiobook, narrated by a full cast (mostly the authors themselves), is a full collection of essays, short fiction, and poetry that explores how slavery built America, and how its legacy persists in every aspect of our lives today. Particularly eye-opening are the many aspects of our history—politics, religion, art, economics—that were influenced by dogged determination to maintain slavery, racism, and inequality as institutions. There is so much to absorb here, and this is a must-read for anyone dedicated to anti-racist education.
Following the end of the Civil War, newly freed Black people are left to fend for themselves among resentful white people who do not want to hire them. When George Walker, a former northerner in Georgia, meets Prentiss and Landry in his woods, he offers them lodging and jobs helping him cultivate new peanut fields.
Neighbors resent George and his wife, Isabelle’s, fair treatment of the men. The growing resentments reach a tipping point and result in a tragic murder and cascading acts of violence that could destroy the town.
Harris’s debut is a fantastic, heartbreaking exploration of the tumultuous period of Reconstruction. Every main character is so well-developed, complex and imperfect, each courageous in their own way. This was a book club read and we had a lot to discuss; I was riveted.
Following their mother’s death, twins Benny and Byron come together to listen to an audio recording she left them, along with a Caribbean black cake that they are told to eat when the time is right. But first, they must listen: to a history their mother never shared, that began when she was a teen on an island and unfolds in a shocking tale of murder, escape, and abuse—as well as long-held secrets about her own identity and the true nature of their family.
Black Cake is a masterful exploration of generational trauma and how fear can shape lives. Alongside the family narrative is a fascinating food-centered exploration of culture, tradition, and origin, and how those things are changed and shaped over generations.
Ike and Buddy Lee are two ex-cons with a mission: find who killed their sons and get revenge. They are an unlikely pair; Ike is a Black man on the straight-and-narrow for 15 years, while Buddy is a white redneck who is rarely sober for a full day. Their sons, Isiah and Derek, were married to one another, with a young daughter that Ike and his wife are now raising. Both fathers struggled to accept their sons, but both are grieving hard following their deaths.
The men are determined to make up for their failures in their sons’ lives, in the only ways they know. Cosby has created two unforgettable characters and a fantastic relationship between them, but it’s also clear: they are hardened criminals who did then, and will do now, whatever it takes to fulfill their end.
The story is gripping, the violence is gruesome, but Ike and Buddy Lee’s relationship and journey will stay with you. Highly recommended.
“The world is in the grip of unprecedented change. The planet you think you live on no longer exists.”
In this investigative journey, Rawlence travels to the treelines of places such as Norway, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland to examine six hardy tree species and how the world is changing on the edges.
It’s a fascinating examination of the intricacies of nature, and what you think you know is often turned on its head. Expanding forests in the north may sound like a good thing–more trees!–but the shift in climate that wrought the change has devastating cascading effects at the treelines, through the forests, in the economy, and even in the oceans.
Rawlence weaves an overwhelming amount of information into a riveting narrative that combines science with local lore and tradition. The climate predictions across the board are dire, and while this book provides little in the way of solutions or even hope, the hope there is lies in the long-proven adaptability and ingenuity of the forests.
I have to say, Unlikely Animals is one of my favorite weird reads ever. To start: this book is collectively narrated by the…residents?…of a local cemetery. Really, they’re all a bunch of gossips, deeply interested in the lives of the people who live in their New Hampshire town.
Their focus in this story is the Starling family. Emma has returned to town from California, where she was supposed to be in medical school (but wasn’t), and now is back because her father, Clive, is dying of a brain disease. Clive is having hallucinations and is obsessed with finding Emma’s former best friend, Crystal, who has disappeared.
On top of all this, Emma also has a touch of magic about her–the ability to heal small things, which seems to have disappeared. So between the magic, the ghosts, the visions, and the gossips in the cemetery, there’s a lot of levity to be had here, mixed in with the very real crises of drugs, disease, and the disappearance of a young woman. Despite these dark themes, it’s not a spoiler to say that this had one of the most delightful endings in recent memory.
After graduating high school, Zoey has returned to Mallow Island in South Carolina to claim the apartment her mother left her. The Dellawisp has a small cast of quirky residents: two estranged middle-aged sisters, a quiet chef, a struggling artistic young woman, and the reliable caretaker.
But ghosts also linger here, and they have opinions about how these residents are living. As Zoey settles in, small mysteries emerge that bring these misfit “other birds” together. A lovely book about community and found family, with the lightly magical backdrop that Sarah Addison Allen is known for–a heartwarming and cozy read.
Erika Krouse fell into a job as a private investigator, working for an attorney bringing a Title IX civil case against the University of Colorado – Boulder (thinly veiled here–the cloaked identities of many of the players are obvious throughout this memoir) after a sexual assault during a football recruiting visit. Her investigation led her to other victims, and she worked to find evidence that the culture of sexual assault was systemic–known about and supported by people in high places at the university.
In this literary memoir, Krouse details her exhaustive search for people who would talk to her–and speak against the powerful football team, which had a cult-like devotion and veil of protection at all levels, from students to administration to law enforcement to top government officials. At the center, of course, is the victims, revictimized after their identities are leaked and their lives ruined.
Through the investigation, Krouse is forced to reckon with her own history of sexual abuse and the ways in which she, too, was revictimized again and again. It’s through this connection that Krouse drives home the lifelong trauma of such crimes. Infuriating, frustrating, and captivating, this is one of the most deeply personal memoirs I’ve ever read.
If you’ve read any of my audiobook reviews, you know that Julia Whelan is my favorite narrator. In Thank You for Listening, she brings her talents to her own romance book–while also lending it her deep knowledge of the genre and its tropes (the chapters are named for them!), as well as her experience as an audiobook narrator.
Sewanee had acting dreams that were cut short by a tragic accident, and she now narrates audiobooks–but avoids romance. When a famous romance author dies and leaves a request that she pair up with mysterious heartthrob narrator Brock McKnight to narrate her last book, the offer is too good to pass up–her grandmother needs hands-on care, and this would pay for it.
Before the two even meet in person, sparks fly over their text banter. This being a trope-filled romance, there are plenty of misunderstandings and complications, but the characters and their relationship are fantastic. I had a blast listening to this and didn’t want it to end.
The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.
This is the phrase that 16-year-old Frankie writes on the poster that she makes with Zeke, who adds his art. The two add their drops of blood, make copies, and post it all over their small Tennessee town. This act–this phrase–defines their summer, and the years after. The mystery of the posters captivates the town and it soon becomes a phenomenon that spreads far beyond their town, beyond anything they can control–and the repercussions are devastating.
I loved this. Everything about it had me hooked, from the way the art spread (long before the internet and things went viral), to how Wilson perfectly captures so much about life in a small town. There were passages I played back again, they were so poignant. One of my favorites of 2022.
I love it when books take me into worlds that normally wouldn’t interest me and makes them compelling. In this case, it’s gaming. Sam and Sadie have been friends since childhood, brought together by chance in the hospital. After years apart, they run into one another at the Harvard Square T-stop and strike up a collaboration. Before graduating, they, with the support of their friend Marx, build a video game that propels them to success.
This is the story of their friendships, told over decades, complicated by and held together by their professional partnership. Zevin has created a full collection of wonderful characters, but her main three–Sadie, Sam, and Marx–truly shine. I loved watching their love stories grow and evolve, and how their connections hold through illness, failure, and tragedy.
What are your best books of 2022?