And here we are, on the cusp of yet another new year. I don’t know how they are screaming by but I do know I am reading the best books of all time throughout them. This year, 2022, was the year I quit reading books I wasn’t interested in, and started reading the back list of authors like Ursula K LeGuin and Octavia E Butler.
But true to my book-reviewing self, I read dozens of books published in 2022, and loved at least one of those dozen. Here are the best 2022 books I read in 2022.
My Top 2022 Books
Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour
I love a book that centers a theme and explores it fully without belaboring it. And while LaCour is wholly good at the will-they-won’t-they romance between Sara and Emilie, it is her prose and the decadent way she describes southern California that makes this book unforgettable to me. As I said in my original review there is a “triumphant way that LaCour arranges imagery into something powerful and seductive,” and months after setting this down I still remember the feeling it gave me.
“She’d been a flower. Snipped from the root, quick to wilt, temporary. She’d existed to be lovely and to be chosen. No one had expected her to last.”
Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi
When I tell you that I am thankful for the BookTok community, it will have nothing to do with views or engagement or Bridgerton or (god forbid) Colleen Hoover. It will have everything to do with that community introducing me to Akwaeke Emezi.
Emezi is an author of once-in-a-generation talent and voice, and their novels were at the top of all my lists this year. Bitter, the prequel to Pet, tells a story of an artistic student with dreams of safety and creativity who is embroiled in the bitter realities of injustice all around her. Emezi is a master of emotive prose and deeply rich characterization. For anyone who knows me, you’ll know this for the high praise it is: they are Melina Marchetta levels of must buy for me. And how could they not be with lines like these?
“Hope is not a waste of time. It’s a discipline.”
A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows
Fresh out the gate every potential reader should know that this book deals heavily with on-page sexual assault, and the trauma it visits on the main character is one of the central themes of the book. Please be cautious.
For me, I knew I was going to love this book a few pages in based on the lush, almost gothic nature of the prose. An arranged marriage of strangers who become reluctant allies to lovers in a true slow-burn romance is very close to my ultimate trope-heaven, and this delivered on all fronts.
One of the aspects of the world that I loved was the dichotomy of Vel’s homeland, Ralia, where his sexuality is roundly condemned and the pure openness and normalization of all types of queer identities in his adopted home, Tithena. The how-it-is versus how-it-should-be of Vel’s upbringing and then his marriage is a wonderful analogy for queer folks who grow up in conservative, homophobic spaces but find their way out.
“You must be patient with me, dear Cae, as I learn to inhabit myself.”
“For you, anything.”
Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn
A lot of times, especially in Young Adult sequels, there is a hollow place the author sinks into that drags the reader along. It’s not always fun. Many times, I find sequels to be well-written character studies because less happens, the MC is introspective and at their weakest, and the plot is awaiting its major climax. Not so with Bloodmarked. It’s a perfect sequel.
The reveal of Bree as Arthur in Legendborn is not diminished in this follow-up; it is expanded in every way. Bree isn’t wallowing; she is growing. The pace doesn’t let up and neither does the tension or the thematic punch. This is destined to be a YA classic series in the style of The Hunger Games. A book that explores grief and trauma and the intergenerational reality of both in lines like these:
“It is rage, expanding so fast and so hot that it fuels itself beneath your skin. Grief so deep you are only an open wound, only pain. Pain so fresh that the world itself feels like it should be burning.”
The Long Game by Rachel Reid
If you’ve ever paid attention to books that I love, you’ll know that Heated Rivalry is one of my absolute favorites. The enemies to lovers trope is so well defined in this gay hockey romance that it nearly supercedes all others for me. The Long Game is the continuation of Ilya and Shane’s Happy-For-Now ending in Heated Rivalry into their Happily-Ever-After.
You would think that there is no way an author could create a believable tension, an actual fear of loss for a couple who have been together for ten years, have their own romance novel already and are popping up in every other books in the series to make quips and look askance at one another. BUT you’d be dead wrong. The longing, pining and pain that Ilya and Shane go through in this is beyond, dare I say it, even their first go-round. And the ending is all the sweeter for it.
“Kiss me, Ilya wanted to say. Kiss me and hold me in front of all these people. Pull me onstage and do it. I don’t care anymore. Please. I’m dying. “Nothing,” Ilya said, and stepped away. “Nothing.”
Gallant* by V.E. Schwab
*Gallant is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. We stand with the Harper Collins union. Learn more about their ongoing strike here.
When I read Young Adult novels, I do my best to put myself in the place of the intended audience. It’s not so hard: I have two teenage daughters. And when reading Gallant I imagined them, perhaps a bit younger than they are now, just on the cusp of entering middle school, and wholly transported into this gothic tale and fully understanding of who Olivia is.
I’ve read critiques that say Olivia is underdeveloped and the atmospherics of Gallant are too heavy handed, and to that I say: yes, purposefully. Olivia is all the young kids who are going to read this tale. And Gallant is as atmospheric as Coraline, as Edward Scissorhands, as Rebecca. It will stick with those kids and remind them that found family is often the best kind and that “Home is a choice.”
Heartbreaker by Sarah MacLean
Sarah MacLean rarely disappoints me in historical romance, but it had been awhile since I’d read anything in the genre that felt more than mid. And then the Duke of Clayborne decided to chase after a notorious princess of thieves, and I was enamored from page one. Gone are the usual tropes surrounding class and inheritance (although they are there) or self-flagellation over not being good enough (that’s there too). MacLean gives us two MCs who see the other and rock their own worlds to indulge. The action never lets up, and neither does the forced proximity. These characters are TOGETHER on the page. And TOGETHER in their feelings. I loved every word.
Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Honorable mention goes to Nona the Ninth because it’s the third in a complicated quartet of books and will definitely not be for everyone, but Nona slates some amazing puzzle pieces into place for long-term fans of The Locked Tomb series like me. But beyond all the space-wizardy and weirdness and quirky escape-room writing, there are truisms about love and faith and friendship that make a person, like me, who has lost so much of that in the last few years, rejoice and weep.
“I could never stop you from loving anything. I don’t have the right. Nobody has the right to tell you who to love or who not to love, and equally nobody’s obliged to love you. If you were forced into loving them, it wouldn’t be love.”
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
My last read of 2022 (unless I get through this arc before midnight) was definitely one of the best. Categorically, as well, since it won the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction and ended up on more than a dozen Best Of Lists. But this is one book that deserves the hype and accolades. All about creativity, friendship, partnership and how those things intersect in every possible way, this is one book I won’t soon forget.
Buy any or all of my favorite 2022 books here:
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).