Happy New Year to you all! Do you have great reads from 2022 to talk about? What were your favorites? Which books were weakest or frustrated you most? And which books are you most looking forward to in 2023? As always, chatting about stuff in general is welcome.
I divided my list of favorite books of 2022 into two categories: books published in 2022 and books published in a prior year but that I read for the first time in 2022. Regardless of publication date, a beautifully-written emotional-nuanced journey with angsty complications and a splash of melancholy will get me every time.
Favorite books published in 2022:
THE LONG GAME by Rachel Reid: Immensely satisfying, smoothly written finale to Reid’s six-book Game Changer series of m/m hockey romances, in which Shane & Ilya (the couple from HEATED RIVALRY) achieve their HEA after more than a decade of secretly being together. My favorite book of 2022. Lovely in every way.
THE LONE WOLF’S REJECTED MATE by Cate C. Wells: Beautifully written, if dark, story about coming to terms with childhood traumas and learning from the resulting mistakes made as an adult; and how the path to trust and hope requires courage but is ultimately worth it.
PEN PAL by J. T. Geissinger: Brilliant mash-up of romance, psychological suspense, and supernatural/gothic horror featuring a recently-widowed young woman, living in a crumbling Victorian mansion, who begins a hot romance with the guy who comes to fix the house’s leaky roof. Avoid seeking out spoilers because part of the enjoyment of this book comes from trying to determine where the twists and turns of the plot are going.
HOW TO FAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD by Ava Wilder: Intensely angsty story of how the fake relationship between an up-and-coming actress and a former A-list actor gradually becomes serious, only to have love undermined by addiction and enabling. Wilder vividly captures the see-sawing emotions of loving someone who struggles with addiction.
YOU AND ME by Tal Bauer: Beautifully written bi-awakening story between a struggling widower and the out, divorced, former Mormon who runs the booster club for their sons’ football team. A wonderful story about finding yourself and being a good parent and partner. Bauer does a great job of presenting a truly decent and kind person without making them unrealistic or one-dimensional.
RETURN OF THE OUTBACK BILLIONAIRE by Kelly Hunter: Bracingly unsentimental story of a wealthy Australian landowner, released after serving seven years in prison, and the former-model-turned-photographer who inadvertently played a role in his incarceration. The couple grow closer, but both have a long road to recovery and Hunter does not sugar-coat their journey. Follows the Harlequin Presents template in broad strokes while neatly circumventing it at every turn.
REWRITING THE STARS by Claire Kingsley: Gorgeous “Romeo and Juliet” retelling brings Kingsley’s Bailey Brothers series to a heartfelt close. Two people from rival families decide to buck tradition, face family blowback, and embrace love. A fitting end to a wonderful series.
TWO TRIBES by Fearne Hill: Alternately funny, sexy, heartbreaking, and uplifting romance which covers 25 years in the lives of an upper-middle class doctor and a working-class history buff who first meet as 17-year-old schoolmates. Informed by a quarter-century of pop culture, New Wave & Grunge music, and an incredibly snarky sensibility.
BROKEN PLAY by Alison Rhymes. Angsty and nuanced story of a married couple torn apart by the husband’s infidelity and the long hard road they must travel to regain love and trust. Rhymes does a brilliant job with not only the heroine’s understandable cascade of emotions but also with making the hero a fully-fleshed human being and not a villainous caricature.
Favorite books published in a prior year:
BASS-ACKWARDS by Eris Adderly (published in 2019): Erotic romance that completely reframes the “woman agrees to sexual relationship with boss” trope of dark/billionaire romance: moving the setting to a working-class equipment rental business and creating MCs who fully inhabit the milieu and their own vivid personalities.
BOLD FORTUNE by M. M. Crane (published in 2021): Wonderful grumpy-sunshine pairing between an optimistic, resilient academic who works for an environmental think-tank and the taciturn “mayor” of an Alaskan wilderness town she is trying to persuade to prevent the reopening of an abandoned gold mine. Each can see that the other has adopted a persona to hide deeper hurts, and the sunshiny heroine confounds the gruff hero at every turn. A delicious, snowy bon-bon of a book.
HITTING THE WALL by Cate C. Wells (published in 2021): Gritty, unsentimental story of how poverty creates its own mindset and how the entitled wealthy exploit that. The hero must re-evaluate his belief that his powerful and influential family members are all uniformly good and kind when he discovers that some of them ran a teenager (pregnant with his child) out of town seven years before. Decidedly not a “capitalist rescue fantasy,” but a nuanced and clear-eyed presentation of the stark differences between rich and poor.
LONG WINTER & SIGNS OF SPRING by Rachel Ember (published in 2021): Lovely m/m duet about two lonely people who gravitate toward each other when stranded together during a snowstorm. Full of tropes (slow-burn, age-gap, best friend’s brother, enforced proximity, bi-awakening, found family) handled so beautifully that they don’t seem like tropes at all, but instead feel like individualized story elements.
LAST CHANCE REBEL by Maisey Yates (published in 2016). Melancholy story about a woman, scarred emotionally and physically from a severe vehicle accident in childhood, who falls for the man who caused the accident. Yates does a fabulous job with describing the way atonement, contrition, and forgiveness gradually morph into love.
BURN THIS CITY by Aleksandr Voinov (published in 2021): Dark and violent “enemies-to-lovers” story of two high-ranking “made” men from rival mob families and the cat-and-mouse game that ensues after one takes the other captive, planning to torture information out of him before killing him. Well-written, carefully paced, and intricately plotted, but not for the faint of heart.
As for the book that disappointed me the most, I have to go with Eve Dangerfield’s VELVET CRUELTY, the first book in a dark retelling of Snow White. Dangerfield has always been one of my favorite writers, and I was looking forward to her first foray into dark romance. Unfortunately, the book had neither Dangerfield’s trademark humor nor one of her self-aware heroines. Instead, the story was just one humiliation after another visited upon the young, virginal heroine (kidnapped on her wedding day by four men who are seeking revenge against her fiancé). I’m not interested in continuing to read the series. A rare misfire from the usually reliable Dangerfield.
Alexis Hall released one of my favorite books of 2022 (SOMETHING FABULOUS) and one of my biggest disappointments (PARIS DAILLENCOURT IS ABOUT TO CRUMBLE). Looking forward to his re-release of GLITTERLAND (January 2023).
THE UNDERTAKING OF HART AND MERCY by Megan Bannen
NETTLE & BONE by T. Kingfisher
TRAMPS AND VAGABONDS by Aster Glenn Gray
Most anticipated of 2023:
SECRET LIFE OF COUNTRY GENTLEMEN by K.J. Charles (March)
HAPPY PLACE by Emily Henry (April)
Trope that needs to end in 2023:
While I read many romances in 2022 and enjoyed them, my favorite reads of the year were mostly straight fiction, although a couple were romance-adjacent:
ONCE MORE UPON A TIME, Roshani Chokshi. Once upon a time there was a prince named Ambrose and a princess named Imelda who loved each other . . . But, alas, no more. “What a witch takes, a witch does not give back!” their friends and family warn. They resign themselves to this loveless fate. A year and a day pass. And then their story truly begins. The story builds on familiar fairy tales and upends them. Slight but very charming.
PERSUASION, Jane Austen. There is so much to love about this book: the opportunity for second chances, the language, the acuity with which Austen dissects the characters. The skewering of Sir Walter on the opening pages, the description of the Musgrove’s dead (and deadbeat) son, the fact that Anne doesn’t fall in love with her cousin, Mr. Elliot, because she feels that he does everything that is proper but never reveals his true self, and so much more. Anne and Frederick (who is only 4 years older) fall in love because “Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail”. It is so telling that none of Anne’s immediate family truly love or appreciate her, and she is looking not only to be loved but to love.
CLOUD CUCKOO LAND, Anthony Doerr. I found this story that moves between 3 separate times and 3 separate places mesmerizing and compelling, full of characters I cared about I liked but didn’t love Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, but this one I loved.
BEFORE THE COFFEE GETS COLD, Toshikazu Kawaguchi. If you could go back, who would you want to meet? In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefuly brewed coffee for more than 100 years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee: the chance to travel back in time. Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the cafe in hope of making that journey. But time travel isn’t so simple, and there are rules that must be followed. Most important, the trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold. This novel explores the age-old question: What would you change if you could travel back in time, especially since one of the rules is that you can’t change the present? The author, however, creates heroines who manage to change something in the past that allows them to change the future, with a potential lover, a sister, a husband. I’d not read a story quite like this before, and I found it clever and engaging.
Several ATTOLIA books, Meg Whalen Turner. I am completely captivated by Gen and enjoyed both those stories I’d read before and the one or two that were new to me.
ELINOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE, Gail Honeyman. The title implies this is a rom com, but it’s not. There is definitely humor and in the end romance, but Elinor has a lot to overcome before she can become “shiny”.
THE SWEETNESS OF WATER, Nathan Harris. In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry – freed by the Emancipation Proclamation – seek refuge on the homestead of George and Isabelle Walker. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of Caleb, their only child, to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys. Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. One is Caleb, who had been captured by Union soldiers, not killed, and August Webling, son of one of the richest men in Old Ox. Needless to say, this story is bittersweet, with unexpected heroism and kindness, but also tragedy.
JANE STEELE, Lyndsay Faye. A version of Jane Eyre that is both true to yet very different from the original. This Jane clearly states, “Reader, I killed him”, and one must read the book to find out who was killed and why. I do feel it is important to point out that Faye has not made Jane into a serial killer, which would be something of a sacrilege.
THIS IS HAPPINESS, Niall Williams. Change is coming to Faha, a small Irish parish unaltered in a thousand years. But t is now the 1950s, and the rain has stopped. Nobody remembers when it started; rain on the western coast of Ireland is a condition of living. But now – just as Father Coffey proclaims the coming of the electricity – the rain clouds have lifted. Noel Crowe, 17 y.o., is idling in the unexpected sunshine when Christy makes his first entrance into Faha, bringing secrets for which he needs to atone. Though he can’t explain it, Noel knows right then something has changed. As the people of Faha anticipate the endlessly procrastinated advent of the electricity, and Noe navigates his own coming of age and falling in an out of love, Christy’s past gradually comes to light, casting a new glow on a small world. The book is about the power of stories, those told in words and in music, both those we tell ourselves and those that bind or separate communities. Starts very slowly, and even though the writing was beautiful it took me a long time to get into it. In the end, however, it was so gorgeous and poignant and powerful that I was carried along and swept away with the words and the story and the characters.
@DiscoDollyDeb: How to Fake it in Hollywood sounds interesting; do you think I would like it?
@DiscoDollyDeb: That sounds terrible.
@SusanS: I love most of what I’ve read by Aster Glenn Gray but I bowed out of Tramps and Vagabonds pretty early on. The one hero misled the other about the difficulties of life as a tramp and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tolerate whatever bad things came their way, especially given the other hero’s innocence.
@Susan/DC: You have some books on your list that I’ve been interested in and authors I’ve read before too.
I can’t get into Roshani Chokshi; her prose is too flowery for me.
I’ve been wanting to read (or listen to) Persuasion for years; must get off my butt and do it. Cloud Cuckoo Land is another I’ve been meaning to get to. Maybe this year!
I adore Turner’s series, as you probably know. Have you read Moira’s Pen yet? If so I’d love to hear what you thought of the last story, “Gitta,” and if you have any theories about it.
I loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (my review is here) also.
@Janine: I really enjoyed HOW TO FAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD: it’s much more serious and downbeat than the usual “fake dating” romance. And I thought it handled the addiction & enabling elements very well.
@DDD, @SusanS, and @Susan/DC: I enjoyed learning about all of your favorites. I also read and enjoyed one or more of your choices.
@Kareni: Which ones did you enjoy? Inquiring minds want to know.
@Susan/DC, what lovely little reviews. Thank you.
2022 was not a good reading year for me. Looking back I think I spent a lot of it in a slump or doing comfort re-reads.
Favorite books I read this year (not necessarily published this year)
SLOUCH WITCH- By Helen Harper – The first book in a PNR mystery trilogy. The heroine, was a self professed lazy witch that just wanted to sit on her couch and eat potato chips. She was reluctantly drawn into a mystery hunting for a stolen magical artifact. She was hysterical and irreverent. And a terrible sleuth (she always thought the last person they talked to did it). But she is more brilliant than she lets on. Just a fun, lighthearted series. And since ‘Fun’ and ‘Lighthearted’ was my thing this year this series hit the spot for me,
SNAPDRAGON – by Kilby Blades – This is the first book is a romance duology. I liked this one slightly better than the second book. This is the type on contemporary I like. The protagonists are smart and act like adults. It takes place in Chicago and the author uses the city well. These are two sexy, well heeled, well connected urbanites who wine, dine and work in the big city and we are along for the ride. They are both professionals, she is a doctor and he is an architect and we get to see a lot of workplace competence. The conflict — they have a no-strings sexual arrangement which can be stopped any time either one of them uses the word ‘snapdragon’ — is an old trope but the author makes it feel fresh. They like, support, and take care of each other and genuinely enjoy each others’ company. And the on page sexual chemistry is incredible. This book is told from the heroine’s POV and the second one is told from the hero’s.
NETTLE & BONE – by T. Kingfisher — I tell myself I should not be surprised that I am smiling when I close a book by this author but I usually am. Once again I thought this author was going to take me someplace dark, and while it started off that way, it became something else. So charming, I listened in audio and the narrator was great.
THE VINEYARD AT PAINTED MOON – by Susan Mallery – This author is really hit or miss for me. Really I LOVE some of her books and absolutely HATE others. But this one was a hit. It served so many of my favorite things: big families, family drama, workplace drama, romance, all sort of relationship permutations and all of it delivered with a side of soapy goodness.
SWEEP OF THE HEART – By Ilona Andrews – Oh man. An Intergalactic version of the Bachelor served up Ilona Andrews style. This was SO. MUCH. FUN.
HALF A SOUL – by Olivia Atwater – I love when someone does something different with PNR. This was such an interesting story.
SOUL TAKEN – by Patricia Briggs
Favorite throwback re-reads:
INDIGO – by Beverly Jenkins
DARK BEFORE THE RISING SUN – by Laurie McBain
ON BASILISK STATION – by David Weber
Favorite New author discovery – Kilby Blades
Biggest letdown – LEGACY by Nora Roberts
Biggest WTF did I read? – STORM DAMAGE by CP Smith – The hero drifted into town, fell in love, solved five murders and was appointed chief of police all in a one week period.
Biggest 2023 Anticipations:
Probably the next installments of my favorite long running series.
I will say, I am looking forward to the audiobook release of A ROSE IN WINTER by Kathleen Woodiwiss as read by Roslyn Landor. I’ve often wondered how she’d translate in audio and they couldn’t have chosen a better narrator for her.
2022 FAVORITE BOOKS/AUDIOBOOKS (I first read in 2022)
A Merry Little Meet Cute -Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone narrators Joy Nash & Sebastian York
A Light in the Flame by Jennifer L Armentrout narrator Stina Nielsen
Dead Series Case#1 Miz Dusty Le Frey by Vawn Cassidy narrator Joel Leslie
The Weight of It All by NR Walker narrator Joel Leslie
Final Heir by Faith Hunter narrator Khristine Hvam
The War of Lost Heart series by Carissa Broadbent narrators Dan Calley & Esther Wane
The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings by Lily Morton narrator Joel Leslie
Famous in A Small Town by Kylie Scott narrator Andi Arndt
Last on the List by Amy Daws narrators Teddy Hamilton & Erin Mallon
Mack’s Rousing Ghoulish Highland Adventure by A.J. Sherwood
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson narrator Caitlin Davies
@Janine: books I enjoyed that have been mentioned above ~
THE LONG GAME by Rachel Reid
THE UNDERTAKING OF HART AND MERCY by Megan Bannen
NETTLE & BONE by T. Kingfisher
ELINOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson
Re-reads I enjoyed again include ~
Linesman series by SK Dunstall
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Touchstone series by Andrea Höst
The Claimings series by Lyn Gala
The Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell
Thank you for the review of Snapdragon. I bought it after reading and liking Blades’s Forrest for the Trees. Of course, it has remained on my TBR. I’ll read it when I get out of my Holiday reading slump.
@TinaNoir: Snapdragon sounds great! I love the way you’ve described the protagonists and even though that is a trope that’s been used a lot it’s one I still like. I think I’ll try a sample.
A Rose in Winter is the only Woodiwiss I really liked. You’ve made me curious.
@DDD: Our reading tastes are probably about as far apart as they could be, but I’m always impressed by the insight and depth of your comments. Even if I’ll probably not read these books, I learn something from your mini-reviews and find them worthwhile.
@Janine: I’ve not yet read MOIRA’S PEN. Ordered it at Politics & Prose, my local independent bookstore. Thanks for reminding me that I need to check on the status of the order. As for the Chokshi, I think because the book was so short, the language didn’t have time to annoy me, and flowery language seems to fit the “once upon a time, long ago and far away” aspect of the story.
@ LML: Thank you. The beginning description is mostly from the book blurbs, but I’m glad if my comments prove helpful.
Re:Kathleen Woodiwiss audiobooks — They are supposedly releasing all of her books in audio in 2023. But I agree a Rose in Winter is the only one I am interested in. Shanna still holds up relatively well (I re-read it last year as a throwback re-read and was surprised that is wasn’t too cringey).
@TinaNoir: Is she still alive? I don’t recall hearing of her passing but if she is, she must be at least in her seventies by now.
@Amy R: @Kareni: Last year Layla had Vespertine on her best of list and I put it on my library wish list. Must find time to actually read it …
@Susan/DC: Thank you!
@TinaNoir: Actually never mind. I looked her up on Wikipedia and it says she passed away in 2007. I don’t know how I missed that.
@Jayne: Same here re Vespertine.
I only have 4 5-star reviews this year, down from 9 last year. I also read fewer books – 87 books this year, when I usually ready around 100 per year.
5 star reads (in no particular order)
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews (lit fic)
A Restless Truth (The Last Binding #2) by Freya Marske (fantasy/mystery/historical ff romance)
Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun (contemporary ff romance)
The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes (London Highwaymen #2) by Cat Sebastian (historical mf bi romance)
I just recently exported all of my Goodreads data into The StoryGraph and I know have access to A LOT more data about my reading, which is fun. For example, I read a lot more YA this year – 18 books, compared to 6 in 2021. And I read 45 new to me authors (compared to 33 in 2021).
All of the books that I finished this year were fiction. And all but 3 were LGBTQIA+.
I got a little burned by following “read these great LGBTQ+ books coming out soon” lists without doing enough independent research. We’re in such a wonderful golden age of queer fiction right now, especially in YA and romance, and I got caught up in the hype of some books that I ended up really hating – and I could have avoided most of the disappointment if I’d just read the sample first or waited for the actual reviews to come out.
@Amy R: Sorry I forgot to respond! Kaetrin loved A Merry Little Cute (she gave it an A-) and Layla loved Vespertine (it went on her Best of 2021 list) and I’ve been wanting to read both. I have been wanting to try Faith Walker (for years) as well.
@cleo: How did you export your GR data to StoryGraph, Cleo? Manually or is there an easier way to do it?
I am getting burned by those same “buzzy book that are coming out” lists. And whereas usually the Goodreads Choice Nominees in the SFF categories work out for me, this year they mostly have not.
I’m reading All This Could be Different now and so far it’s good. I don’t love it as much as you do but I am enjoying it.
@Janine: It was pretty easy to export my GR data to StoryGraph. I followed the directions on StoryGraph but there are also a lot of how-tos online if you google for it. You just export a .cvs file from Goodreads and import it into TSG.
I did have to spend some time cleaning up my book info once everything was imported into TSG – some books were marked as being in different language and I had to switch them to the English edition. The most annoying problem I had was with the Read date. There are two ways to mark a book as Read in GR but only one of them exports, so I went through and manually added in Read dates for quite a few of my 2022 and 2021 books.
@cleo: Thanks Cleo. Which is the one that exports? It would be good to know going forward.
@Janine: the dates that export are the ones that you set when you create or edit your review. Looking in my browser on my laptop, that’s the only way I see to add a date read. But in the app (on my iPhone and on my Kindle Fire) there’s anther way to add it – that way is displayed slightly differently in the app and those dates were not exported (I’m writing this from memory so I hope this makes sense).
@cleo: Thank you!
I’ve been trying to write about my reading for about a week now and haven’t managed to be coherent so I’m just going to throw out some thoughts.
I don’t recall reading any standout Romances this past year. It seems like I mostly read a lot of KU titles that were okay. I did discover a couple of new mid-20th century mystery authors through my library, Jane Langston and George Bellairs. I’m always on the lookout for older cozy mysteries a la Charlotte MacLeod.
I did read two notable historical fantasies with strong romantic elements, both M/M, that I really liked: The Gilded Scarab by Anna Butler and Heart of Winter by Lauren Gilley. Both are the beginning of series, are well written, and have a romantic plot as strong as the adventure/fantasy element.
TGS is a romantic adventure in a steampunk Victorian setting where society is divided into Houses that control different aspects of government and the economy with a lot of machinations and fighting for power. The protagonist is an ex fighter pilot estranged from his House who gets unwillingly pulled back into House business. It’s written as if he’s relating his adventures and he’s very self-aware and dryly witty. It has an audio version that’s very well done.
HoW is part of a “slow-burn fantasy series, full of court intrigue, adventure, drama, dragons, and passionate romance. Heavily influenced by Viking history and mythology, the series follows the intertwining stories of multiple couples as they fall in love, and fight to save their families, and their kingdoms.”
Here’s the blurb: “Oliver Meacham, bastard nephew of the Duke of Drakewell, and a massive disappointment to his father, has just lost all his male relatives to the war with the invading Sels from the West. Without an heir, the duchy of Drakewell stands to fall into enemy hands, unless one of Oliver’s cousins can marry a lord with an army strong enough to defend it – which is how he finds himself escorting his cousin Tessa to the Great Northern Wastes; to the kingdom of Aeretoll, with a hope that Tessa might wed the fearsome warrior king who rules there, Erik Frodeson, in order to protect her people. But the stern, forbidding Erik refuses to marry. He offers his nephew’s hand to Tessa instead. And to Oliver he offers insult, challenge – and the sorts of loaded glances that leave Oliver as flustered as he is furious.”
In 2023, I’m looking forward to Martha Wells’ Witch King and Lucy Parker’s Codename Charming.
Our cover images and other graphics are back! *does happy dance*!