I read 71 books in 2022. That doesn’t count the books I started and didn’t like and gave up on. In my younger years I was much less likely to give up on a book. I wonder what that says about me. Anyway, here are my favorites, in the order I read them:
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
You probably think you don’t want to read a book about a pandemic, having just experienced one yourself. However, you really should try this book about the Great Flu of 1918-19. It’s told from the perspective of Julia Power, a nurse working in an under-staffed Dublin hospital. Women who have the flu and go into labor are kept away from the laboring women who don’t have the flu. These ill women are cared for by Julia, who spends her time away from work caring for her shell-shocked, mute brother. The story only spans a few days and is simply incredible.
Comeuppance Served Cold by Marion Deeds
This mystery-fantasy-alternate history of depression-era Seattle is a lot of fun. I wrote a review of it earlier for the Historical Novels Society.
Pony by R.J. Palacio
In the 1860s, 12-year-old Silas lives with his photographer father and a ghost named Mittenwool. When three dangerous-looking men force his father to leave with them one night, and then one of the ponies returns, without any of the men, Silas decides his father needs rescuing. This is a heart-stopping, fast-paced adventure with emotional depth. Written for the child-reader, but I recommend it to you all.
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
Identical twin sisters, Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, have been fascinated with words their entire lives; they even invented their own twin-language as children. As twins and sisters, they are each other’s best friends, pretty much excluding the world from their own perfect life as two halves of the same person. As adults, they hate each other. The story flashes back and forth to their years growing up, and their love of language, until you discover what happened to split them. Although fascinated by them, I didn’t particularly like either sister; however they are surrounded by likeable characters. This story is utterly engaging, and anyone who loves words should give it a go.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
In the 1600s, in France, in a desperate attempt to thwart a marriage she doesn’t want, Addie LaRue makes a deal with the devil that causes her to live forever–and also causes her to be forgotten by everyone, the moment she is out of eyesight. In modern-day New York City, Addie finally encounters someone who doesn’t forget her. How is it possible? This story is so cleverly written, so magnificently engaging. It’s a best-seller for a reason.
Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos
This is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever encountered. You don’t so much read the book as experience it. Here is the review I wrote of it for the Historical Novels Society. A children’s graphic novel about being a refugee.
The Rat Catcher: A Love Story by Kim Kelly
A crazy title and a funny, beautiful story about the plague in Australia. Here’s my review of it for the Historical Novels Society.
The Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Fled Mao’s Revolution by Helen Zia
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, and I’m glad my book club made me read this one. It reads like fiction, following the lives of four people who were children living in Shanghai in 1949 when the Communists took control of the city and country. Incredibly engaging and informative.
Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian
On the surface, this is a fantasy story. Neil Narayan and Anita Dayal are two, suburban-Atlanta, Indian-American children whose parents are obsessed with their success. When slacker Neil discovers from Anita that if one steals and eats the gold in jewelry owned by others, they will also steal the abilities of the victims. It’s a crazy but interesting story taken as such, but when you realize that the gold-eating is actually a metaphor, the story becomes so much more. It is about ambition, the meaning of success, being a “model minority” and so much more. One of the most cleverly written stories of the year.
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
This book got a well-deserved Newbery Honor and a whole lot of other awards. Written in verse, this is the story of Reha, who struggles with her parents, American immigrants from India. They want her to maintain her Indian-ness, but they don’t understand what it is like, growing up in America. Straddling two worlds, she is fully frustrated with her parents. When her mother gets leukemia, the complicated becomes more complex.
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
Lillet Berne isn’t her real name, but it is the name she is most famous for, as a falcon soprano and the most revered opera singer in 19th century Europe. She started out as a Minnesota farm girl, then a circus singing equestrian. Her engrossing story is slowly unfurled as she meets with someone who she might have to kill–or who wants to kill her? I can’t remember, but I do remember that this book is incredible.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
The North may have won the Civil War, but you’d hardly know it from the way the southern town of Old Ox is run. On a homestead outside of town, George Walker decides to start farming his land, as a way of mourning his son Caleb who died in the war. Having never held with slavery, George hires two brothers, former slaves, and pays them a living wage, infuriating the townsfolk and the brothers’ former owner. This is the time and place and some of the characters, but a whole lot goes on in this heart-breaking story of family, of love and hate, of justice and injustice. An impressive debut novel.
Jaguars and Other Game by Brynn Barineau
This is a sort of female three musketeers story that takes place in Rio de Janeiro in 1808. Whip-wielding Maria, her dagger-throwing sister Isabel, and their sword-savvy friend Victoria must solve a murder mystery to free the wrongly accused Mateo. Did you know that the royal family of Portugal fled to Rio to avoid the threat of Napoleon? Mad Queen Maria, the Prince Regent and the horrible Princess Carlotta are some of the colorful characters here, as is this historical version of Rio. A great romp of a story that taught me all sorts of stuff.
What were your favorite reads of the past year? I’d love to hear!