Jayne’s Best of 2022 List
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.
But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.
Wow, I almost don’t know where to start. I guess I should first mention that I’m sure a lot of readers will hate this book. It has omniscient voice – thus allowing us to know Six-Thirty’s thoughts among others, a non-linear timeline, it has a strong female character (YAY) who endures terrible misogyny up to and including forced penetration on page (only once as Elizabeth always carries her secret weapon and used it), domestic violence to another female character, loss of a loved one, and the sad history of another young woman done wrong. Plus there are the thwarted dreams and goals of women of the 1950s and 1960s. There are some heartbreaking things that happen in this book. Some people might also view the positive things that happen as wish fulfillment. To that I say – I loved it. Young women of today – this is what your mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers had to fight against. This is what they triumphed over to give me and you our chances. The book is also one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
This isn’t the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince.
It’s the one where she kills him.
Marra never wanted to be a hero.
As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.
Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:
—build a dog of bones
—sew a cloak of nettles
—capture moonlight in a jar
But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.
Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.
I was blown away by this novel. It’s a road journey, underdogs, ragtag band of misfits, self-doubting heroine, disgraced knight, possessed chicken, dust-wife, evil prince, family relationships mishmash of wonderful. Clues are strewn along the way that later become important, it all makes sense in the end, and I had a fantastic time discovering “What Came Next.” Brava.
I read this book in huge chunks, gobbling it down and hungry for more. It’s got both (very) grim moments and funny ones. It’s a standalone story so no worries about “do I have to read the first book.” It’s got sisterly love, politics, redemption, second chances, a romance, a great hero, a quest, and a heroine who is flawed (along with her lack of the usual princessy looks, she also doesn’t think she’s clever) and overlooked yet discovers her worth and abilities when tested. I even applauded her bit of selfishness at the end because by then, she deserved it and her HEA.
Stick and Stone: Best Friends Forever! by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
This ode to unconditional love is a brand new adventure for New York Times best-selling BFFs Stick and Stone, in which Stick searches for his family tree and discovers the importance of found family and forever friends.
Stick has always wanted to find his family tree. It’s probably big and beautiful! Is it an oak? A maple? What other sticks might he meet?
Stone is happy to accompany his friend on the journey to find the tree he comes from—until it gets dark, and a bit scary in the forest . . .
With bright, engaging illustrations from best-selling creator Tom Lichtenheld, Beth Ferry’s story explores the importance of learning about our roots, as well as the ability of friends and found family to help us grow strong in heart and mind.
Stick and Stone charmed me in their first book “Stick and Stone.” At first apart, they discover they’re better together as best friends. But Stick still wants to find his “family tree” (literally). What’s a bestie if not to go with a buddy on a search like that? But what will they find as they go through “valleys and creeks and high mountain peaks?” Why another friend who learned the value of that in the first book, too. It’s never too late to be a new buddy.
Simple rhymes and lovely illustrations tell the story of friendship, found family, and being there for your friends in a way that children will understand. Pst – and be sure to look at the end pages and the illustration below to check out the different leaves from various trees.
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is a story of kindness and love from one of the foremost practitioners of hopeful SF.
After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.
They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.
Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?
Sigh. I needed this. In so many ways I needed this. It’s such a lovely, thoughtful, introspective story of seeking answers but being okay with not finding them yet. Of friendship and quiet companionship and just … being. It’s more than a little bit of a repeat of last year’s “A Psalm for the Wild Built” but it digs a little deeper as this time Mosscap asks its question “What do people need?” to people other than Sibling Dex and Dex finds themself seeking the answer for themself.
While I read this novella, I had a gentle smile on my face for most of it. I wanted to hug it and pet it and gently scritch it under its chin. I wanted to sit quietly with it and watch it experience the world and muse about its questions. It makes me feel hopeful. It’s comfort reading but more. I don’t know if there will be more “Monk and Robot” stories. But I would happily read them.
Behind the Scenes with Burt by Georgia Dunn
Your favorite purr-nalists are back and reporting on all of the most pressing cat issues in this fourth collection of Breaking Cat News comics for middle-grade readers.
It’s big changes for the kitties at BCN! Burt is bringing this news station up a notch. Join Burt behind the scenes as he updates some of our favorite broadcasts from the past, with better imagery and brand new footage! Including a trip to the vet, exploring the cupboards, hordes of trick or treaters, the action packed “Our IX Lives” Christmas special, and Puck daring to believe in the elusive, mythical Mailman.
After the delight of getting two “Breaking Cat News” books in 2020 (which helped make up for the otherwise suckiness of that year), fans of the comic strip that is now in news papers and can be read online at a few comic sites finally get the transition from Georgia’s old website to the new and improved version (Everything is remastered in high resolution 3200 feline-define! All due to AV cat Burt’s mad technical skills) wherein black cat Puck is now really black instead of gray plus (Oh My Cat!) the much awaited print version of the cat soap opera Christmas special from a few years ago – hint, don’t mess with the Taggart sisters, beware shifty cats with bad hairstyles, and wait for the dramatic ::organ crescendo music:: timely arrival of several characters. The vet visit is a hoot (just what does v-e-t really stand for?) and allows us to see Puck in his adorable underwear (Yes, of course the cats take off their clothes to be examined. Don’t you when you visit your doctor?). And don’t miss the Halloween special with Elvis in his taco outfit or Puck’s efforts to snag pictures of the elusive Mailman.
Fair warning to newcomers, it might be easier to follow the various cats and their purrsonalities if you have some exposure before starting this book. There are four previous books that include most of the strips from the very beginning of Breaking Cat News and / or they can be read from the start at various comic sites online. Fall in love with our news reporters as they tell us all about life as they see it from a cat’s point of view.
The Unkept Woman: A Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair
The Right Sort Marriage Bureau was founded in 1946 by two disparate individuals – Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge (whose husband was killed in the recent World War) and Miss Iris Sparks who worked as an intelligence agent during the recent conflict, though this is not discussed. While the agency flourishes in the post-war climate, both founders have to deal with some of the fallout that conflict created in their personal lives. Miss Sparks finds herself followed, then approached, by a young woman who has a very personal connection to a former paramour of Sparks. But something is amiss and it seems that Iris’s past may well cause something far more deadly than mere disruption in her personal life. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn is struggling to regain full legal control of her life, her finances, and her son – a legal path strewn with traps and pitfalls.
Together these indomitable two are determined and capable and not just of making the perfect marriage match.
Brava, I say. Brava! Action, murder, friendship, past loves, presents loves, spies, and some forward movement in both Iris’s and Gwen’s separate issues along with a case that kept me glued to it so that I flew through two hundred pages in just an afternoon.
This book was a doozy and not just because I learned that (at least at the time) there was actually a Master of Lunacy. The plot was tight, the emotions were there, actions made sense, and I didn’t roll my eyes or yell at anyone to “not go in the dark basement!” People used their heads and although the police didn’t crack the case, they also weren’t made to look like fools either.
While You Sleep by Jennifer Maruno, illustrations by Miki Sato
Breathtaking collage art and exquisite rhyming couplets showcase fantastical dreams as the natural world is prepared for a new day in this gentle bedtime book.
As the day ends and a little girl is put to sleep by her mother, night-helper bunnies work their magic to tidy and polish the world. These helpers paint flowers, dust butterflies, and charge rainbows to make the world a beautiful place to wake up to.
Miki Sato’s collage art, which combines paper, textiles, and embroidery silk, creates a three-dimensional dream world that is rich in detail and texture. Jennifer Maruno uses soothing rhyming couplets that celebrate the beauty of nature, creating a uniquely magical world.
Do you have a child who wants to know what happens when they are asleep? Let this book tell them what goes on and all the hard work needed to keep the world beautiful.
“For while you sleep, there’s work to be done
Someone has to polish the sun.
Comb the grass, straighten the trees
Place a dot on the black-eyed peas.”
While a little girl drifts off to sleep and her cat settles on the bed, her bunnies have a lot of things they need to do.
I thought the artwork looked familiar and sure enough, I enjoyed the collage work done by Miki Sato in “Golden Threads.” This is a charming story with gorgeous illustrations that becomes a work of art.
Into the Riverlands (The Singing Hills Cycle Book 3) by Nghi Vo
Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themself far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be.
Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story—beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel—bears more than one face.
When I saw that there was to be a new Singing Hills Cycle novella, I smiled with delight. Give me a story with Cleric Chih and Almost Brilliant and I will hug it and kiss it on both cheeks. Once again the pair from the Singing Hills monastery are out on the road, observing things, making notes of stories and knowledge to take back with them, and getting into dangerous situations. They’ve faced down tigers and learned about fierce women who seek revenge so a bunch of bandits – even ones with a bad reputation – ought to be a cakewalk. Right?
I’ll remember that I was terrified, Chih thought. I’ll remember what it was like to see a battle between people who don’t fight like people, who are what legends come from.
What can you look forward to when your only relatives call you ugly, unbalanced, and a scandal? What would you do if your only friend was threatened? Dependent on her half brother, the Earl of Lamburne, Adelaide knows. She wants to escape.
Gervase Ducane, invited to Lamburne’s home to court his daughter, is torn. He needs to marry well and soon but not this spiteful chit.
Ordered to stay away from the house party, Adelaide rebels. She will make her unwelcome, embarrassing presence known to avenge herself and her pet. Sometimes when you least expect it, magic happens.
A Peculiar Enchantment by Kathleen Buckley
The romance is a slow, delicious burn. Gervase treats Adelaide well from the moment he meets her because that is what a well mannered gentleman does. He is baffled by the way her family disdains her – as are the other guests who are invited to the estate party. Adelaide is amazed to be accepted by her peers as an equal in a way her family never accorded her. Watching her begin to flower into her own was wonderful. Seeing Gervase take her concerns seriously and act quickly made me cheer. As they begin to work together, they talk and reveal more of themselves to the other – far more than most new acquaintances would normally do – but the circumstances demanded it and made sense to me. They discover a mutual love of country living and estate management. No, they’re not saving England but I also didn’t roll my eyes – over plot improbabilities – until they hurt .
Their families must still be convinced and seeing Gervase and Adelaide handle his Marquess brother and imperious mother with skill, tact, – no shouting or high-spirited stamping of feet please – and a bit of honesty when needed showed more period manners and believability. The comeuppance of those who treated Adelaide badly is delicately and delightfully done. Yes, yes I was happy to see just desserts dished out. Those people had earned them and they got them. Apologies and new understanding come from a few while others will have to live with the consequences of their own actions. Being seen to live your best life is a final coup de grace and cherry on the cake of Gervase and Adelaide’s new found love.
So fair warning to readers, this is a minuet of a story. It is stately, mannered, and much is performed before the critical eyes of Society. Sparks don’t immediately strike between the heroine and hero and they control many of their interactions, with each other and with Society, carefully – Gervase because he doesn’t want to accidentally commit himself to an engagement and Adelaide because of the way her family has always treated her. The way Society viewed one mattered and one’s actions could reverberate positively or negatively on one’s family. I know it will probably not be to the tastes of readers looking for a more “modern” historical but for those wanting something else, it might just fit your bill perfectly. A-
Jayne, are these listed in the order of how much you loved them, or in another order?
I tried Lessons in Chemistry and felt it was too much telling and not enough showing but then my husband read it and said it got much, much better later on and I should give it another shot. I think it was one of the best books of the year for him too.
@Janine: Sorry, there’s no particular order here. Maybe sorta in chronological order?
@Jayne: In that case, do you have a #1 favorite, or a top three?
These are all great books, Jayne. I’ve read some of them and am delighted that you liked my favorites as well (Becky Chambers and Bonnie Garmus). I own a few others and must move them to the top of the pile. Thank you.
@Janine: No, not really.
I also enjoyed the books by Bonnie Garmus, T. Kingfisher, and Becky Chambers. Thanks for sharing your list, Jayne!
@Darlynne: @Kareni: I’m glad to share! ☺
I also really enjoyed the kingfisher and the Montclair— you have good taste:) I’m intrigued by some of the others I’ll have to read some samples!!!
Thanks for sharing your list
@Layla: Your children might be interested in the newest Kingfisher middle grade book. And Montclair has a new book coming out this summer.
I have some of these on Mt. TBR. Must move them up!
Going to try Allison Montclair myself. Thank you Jayne.