It’s that time of year again — we’re announcing the best books of 2022! We’ve combed through everything we’ve read this year to share our picks of best books across all genres. From romance, to thrillers, to sci-fi, and more, there’s something here for everyone. Go forth and explore!
Ask the Brindled
Selected by Rick Barot as one of the five winners of the 2021 National Poetry Series, Ask the Brindled by No‘u Revilla unfolds in four stunning parts. “Definitions of mo‘o” foreground three of them from “Shapeshifting water protector, lizard, woman, deity” to “Narrow path” to “Beloved grandchild” and more. Meditating on ancestry, desire, Hawai‘i, heartbreak, and transformation, I will revisit this innovative, must-read debut collection again. I know because I turn to “After she leaves you, femme” and lines like these often: “2. tell me where it hurts, no one will say. / leave land. leave sleep. / walk to the ocean / like your grandmother did”
Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution
When I heard about Babel I knew right away it would be one of my all time favorite fantasy books — and I was right! Kuang’s exploration of violence, colonialism, and language is superb. Set in an alternate 1800s England, the story follows a boy named Robin who is taken from Canton by the British Professor Lovell. He teaches Robin different languages, so he can enroll at Oxford’s prestigious translation institute. Once there, Robin and his new cohort will slowly learn that they’re no more than tools to expand Britain’s colonialism. So Robin, Victoire, Letty, and Ramy will have to decide if they want to be a part of it…or join the revolution.
Bathe the Cat
This hilarious picture book is easily my 4-year-old’s most-read book of the year (and thus mine too). Two dads try to wrangle their three children into getting ready for Grandma Marge to come over. Papa makes a to-do list on the refrigerator, but when the cat overhears that one item on the list is for it to get a bath, it rearranges the magnetic letters. Much hilarity ensues as the family attempts to follow the rearranged tasks. This excellent, rhythmic read-aloud normalizes queer and biracial families, and I love the colorful illustrations by David Roberts, best known for his illustrations in the Questioneers series.
Estranged siblings Byron and Benny are forced to reconnect by the devastating loss of their mother. When they meet with their mother’s lawyer, they learn she’s left a strange inheritance for them: a black cake made from an old family recipe and an eight hour voice recording in which her surprising story unfurls. This is an epic, winding, beautiful tale of a family ripped apart at the seams, trying to sew itself back together again. Each chapter is a short glimpse into the memories and experiences of different characters, coming together to paint a complex and mesmerizing story. I haven’t stopped thinking about this book for months!
Black Folk Could Fly: Selected Writings
Black Folk Could Fly presents readers with example after example of why Randall Kenan is an American literary treasure and champion of Southern writers. In this posthumous collection of essays, Kenan’s prose shines on every page. Whether he’s describing his childhood in rural North Carolina or his life in New York City, Kenan possesses an eye for detail that translates to a deep emotional intimacy in his writing. He’s contemplative, always mulling over other writers’ work and circling back to interrogate his own ideas on what it means for him to be a Black, gay man in America. This collection is a must-read for any nonfiction lover.
As romance readers, we crave familiar tropes executed in unexpected ways, and Emily Henry excels at it. In Book Lovers, Nora Stephens is a literary agent who has the trail of failed relationships to prove that she is the city girl men leave for the small town girl. She’s a shark, in total control. Her only weakness is her sister Libby, who convinces her to spend a summer in Sunshine Falls, the perfect romcom small town, where she wants Nora to get the guy for once. Unfortunately, the guy turns out to be Charlie Lastra, an infuriatingly good-looking editor she’s already met cute in New York — and it went poorly. But their story isn’t over.
Lola is a sarcastic, neurotic New Yorker in her late 30s, newly engaged to a long-term partner nicknamed Boots. She struggles to accept the commitment that she’s made, and one night, out for dinner in Chinatown with friends, she pops out for a smoke and bumps into an ex-boyfriend. Over the next few weeks, her exes are suddenly everywhere and some of her closest friends are very invested in the outcome of each interaction — maybe too much so. Is someone she knows purposefully manipulating events to test her resolve? Though Lola can be a bit of a jerk, I loved her and this sardonic and twisty page-turner of a book that kept me enthralled throughout.
While reading Desert Creatures, I often found myself teary-eyed, shaking and grieving with the characters. Set in a dystopian American West, it follows Magdala, born with a clubfoot, and her father as they seek refuge from unimaginable violence. They embark on a pilgrimage across the Sonoran Desert to the holy city of Las Vegas, hoping Magdala might be healed with a miracle.
Chronister pierces with her prose. You’ll find hope and acts of kindness in an unkind world. Desert Creatures is not a comfort read — it is rife with horror, betrayal, and a landscape that will burn itself on your consciousness. But in the end, this book will comfort you.
Green Lantern: Alliance
Sometimes a book is so good you wonder how the sequel can ever live up to it. That’s how I felt about 2019’s Green Lantern: Legacy, one of the best books to come out of DC’s graphic novel line for kids. Luckily, Green Lantern: Alliance is just as delightful. Where the first book was a heartfelt coming of age for rookie hero Tai Pham, Alliance is more of a madcap heist, complete with brand-new partner in (fighting) crime, Kid Flash. With a lovable cast, a clever plot, stunning art by the brilliant Andie Tong, and a handful of cameos and Easter eggs for mainstream DCU fans, Green Lantern: Alliance will charm superhero fans of any age.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven
This queer witchy British workplace fantasy novel is so good it hurts to put it down. From the mysterious prophesy to the modern matriarchal magic system to the complexities of long-term female friendships, there are so many reasons to love this book. Four witch best friends grew up and fought in a magical war together for Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. As adults, the friends are all finding out how to live their separate lives after saving the world. Though they’d hoped to avoid fate, fate tracks them down first. The discovery of a powerful teen set to destroy the world reorients their lives drastically.
This isn’t just the best of the year for me but one of the best of my life reads, too. Angie Cruz brilliantly tells the fictional life story of Cara Romero through a series of meetings with a job counselor after she’s laid off from her factory job. This is one of those rare books that finds a way to be deeply funny, real, poignant, and then lives with you after you’re finished. Cara is such a deeply rich character I felt that I’d known her all my life. And the audiobook production deserves a standing ovation and all the flowers for Rossmery Almonte.
Hannah Grace has crafted a slice-of-life romance novel that made me giggle on every single page. Who would have thought that a grumpy figure skater would fall for the captain of the hockey team who also happened to be the personification of a Golden Retriever? But when Anastasia first meets Nathan Hawkins, it issn’t rainbows and sunshine. Yet they find each other in the midst of toxic friendships, life-changing events, and college life. For all the overachievers, athletes, and romantics at heart, this book is definitely for you!
It Won’t Always Be Like This
Malaka Gharib’s latest graphic memoir cements her as one of the all-time great comics autobiographers. It Won’t Always Be Like This follows her childhood to teenage summers in Cairo (and later Qatar) with her father and his new wife and children. Her commitment to being a cool, aloof teenager is tested by her concurrent desire to make friends in a different cultural landscape. As she grows into young adulthood, she learns more about Hala, her father’s wife, and what it means to be a part of a blended family. Malaka’s teenage frustrations are particularly evocative: chafing at the boundaries of childhood but being afraid of what’s to come.
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century
Kim Fu’s first short story collection gives us 12 speculative stories, each of them electrifying and haunting from the first to the last. Though each story presents wholly unique fantastical and futuristic situations that will leave readers in awe, they also all share the ultimate theme of what it means to be human. This is a book to really savor one story — hell, even just one sentence — at a time. I am not the type of reader who often finds myself needing to sit with something I read before being able to move on to the next, but each and every piece in this stunning and powerful collection made me do just that, and it was exhilarating.
Reader, I Murdered Him
As a Brontë fan, I’ve read many Jane Eyre retellings. But this imagined sequel through the eyes of Rochester’s young ward Adele is the best I’ve read since Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Adele is both a catalyst and witness for the main story. I loved reading the Thornfield section for Adele’s perspective on Rochester, Jane, and Bertha. But the true delight begins when she arrives at boarding school. There she finds friendship. She also becomes a vigilante against the high society men who attempt to harm her friends and other women. With a queer romance and a truly shocking twist, I couldn’t put this book down or stop thinking about it.
Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto
Tricia Hersey is the founder of The Nap Ministry and she wants us all to rest. She believes that liberation does not come from exhaustion and burnout is not our path to freedom. This ministry is the antithesis of productivity, the opposite of grind culture. Hersey doesn’t want us to hustle; she wants us to lie down and divest completely from productivity culture, capitalism, and the addictive machine of social media. Rest is Resistance is not only about avoiding filling every moment with productivity but resting for rest’s sake without the goal of having energy to do more. We all deserve rest by merely existing. Rest is our right.
Told as if it were a memoir in recipes, Search follows a Unitarian Universalist search committee over a year as they find their next minister. Every member of the committee has good intentions but, because their individual visions of a what makes a good minister differ, they clash. I took this book with me on my honeymoon and appreciated having stretches of travel time to think about what I and the people I’m close to are searching for in life and how we influence each other.
Siren Queen is a haunting tale of an Asian American actress’s ascension to stardom. It’s the 1920s and Luli Wei wants nothing more than to become a star. When a chance encounter opens the door to stardom, she walks through it — but at what cost? The novel follows Luli as she boldly makes a way for herself in Hollywood’s perilous and magical terrain. Along the way, the dangers of the industry take the form of very real and bloodthirsty monsters and Luli is forced to reckon with the consequences of her decisions. Vo’s darkly delicious tale will linger in the wings of your imagination for a long time to come.
The Book Eaters
I love a dark fantasy novel, and this is one of the best I’ve read in a while. It follows a badass main character forced to work with her enemies in order to protect her children and herself from the machinations of her supernatural family. And as the daughter of one of the ancient vampire-like families in England who consume books, her family isn’t easily crossed. The story is dark and twisty and full of nuanced characters. Plus, a book about people who literally have to consume books to survive? How is that going to be anything but incredible?
This book ticked a lot of boxes for me that ultimately pushed it to my favorite read of the year: well-rounded characters with their own story arcs that converged at the end, a central mystery at its heart that dealt with long-held family secrets, and niche subjects (like mapmaking) that made my literary nerd heart swell. The story follows Nell Young, whose entire family and career revolves around cartography. When her father unexpectedly dies with a mysterious map in his possession, Nell begins to track down clues he left behind, and she soon realizes his death may not have been a tragic accident after all.
This collection of disability justice essays focuses on how the pandemic has affected disabled people, especially QTBIPOC disabled people. Piepzna-Samarasinha argues that we’re on track for disabled people to become the majority in the future and asks, “Have we ever imagined this not just as a cautionary tale or scary story, but as a dream?” They show how disabled ways of thinking and working are crucial in addressing the problems we face right now. This book faces the deadly ableism of the world head-on while imagining a hopeful future. This is such a thought-provoking collection, and I can’t wait to reread it.
After her father is murdered and her home destroyed, Beatriz chooses a life as the wife of Don Rodolfo Solórzano rather than staying at the home of her cruel and judgmental aunt. After she arrives at the Hacienda San Isidro, she feels eyes everywhere, both from the untrusting servants and the ghosts that still roam the property. Beatriz, certain that the ghost of Rodolfo’s first wife is determined to make her life miserable, enlists the help of a local priest Andrés to help rid the property of her. However, as the truth comes to life, both come to realize that there is more evil present at the house than either anticipated.
Ever since my own chronic illness journey began, I’ve been reading about the infuriating and systemic issues of dismissal, trauma, and neglect in our healthcare system. O’Rourke’s book is a new and superb addition to this canon. She breaks down the cultural storytelling we use around illness, digs into the difficulty of uncertainty, and shows in well-researched prose all of the ways that healthcare has utterly failed us. Her honesty and unapologetic rawness throughout the book gives it a daring and convincing energy. It should be a must-read for all nonfiction readers, especially those interested in why our healthcare system is so broken.
The Other Mother
This book is everything I could possibly want in a novel. It’s a multigenerational queer family saga told through seven distinct POVs, across many decades. It’s about queer parenthood and lineage, art and music, cultural identity, and the weight of the secrets, silences, loves, and histories that shape lives and identities. The plot is rich and layered and will keep you turning pages, but it’s as much character-driven as it is plot-driven. Every character is flawed, complicated, and messily human. As soon I finished it, I wanted to start it again immediately. It’s not often a book hooks itself so deeply into my brain and heart.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
Did I ever think a zombie book would make me laugh? No. Did I ever think a romance with rotting corpses would make me cry? Also no. This genre-bending fantasy romance tells the story of a zombie hunting demigod hero and a six-foot-tall undertaker heroine who is here for exactly none of his sass. Add in an epistolary element with magical animal mail carriers and this novel was everything I didn’t know I desperately needed. Bannen’s writing had me highlighting lines on almost every page from her gorgeous and original descriptions. If you want to be transported to another world with an HEA, get Hart and Mercy’s story immediately.
The Weight of Blood
I love finding a book that retells a familiar story while keeping me on my toes. The Weight of Blood is a fresh spin on Stephen King’s Carrie, in which an abused young woman discovers her telekinetic powers and unleashes them at prom. Maddy has a Black mother but passes for white. She is found out when an unexpected rainstorm reveals her hair’s natural texture to her cruel classmates. It’s a remarkably provocative story based on the true history of segregated proms, incorporating racism, colorism, abuse, bullying, and police violence. The characters are unforgettable, the tension ratchets to thrilling levels, and I couldn’t look away.
I cannot stop talking about this one. After years of estrangement, siblings Bellatine and Isaac Yaga are brought together when a mysterious family inheritance shows up. They do not expect that inheritance to be a living house named Thistlefoot. Isaac sees it as an opportunity to take the family puppet show on the road while Bellatine finds a long-sought peace in its walls. Little do they know that the house is being tracked by a malevolent figure, known as Longshadow man, who is removing any evidence of Thistlefoot in his quest to destroy the house. It’s a book that balances Jewish folklore, intergenerational trauma, and reconciliation.
This is the story of a young woman who returns to her small New Hampshire town to help care for her dying father. Plus, there’s wild animals and ghosts! Hartnett manages to incorporate the hard realities of the world, like opioid addiction and ailing family members, and adds so much humor and joy. A heart-pleasing novel, Unlikely Animals shows that you don’t have to have all the answers, it’s okay to change your mind about big life decisions, and you can have complicated feelings about your family. Just when I think I can’t love this book more, I read it again and I do. I have read it seven times now — it’s my warm hug for this stressful year.
When Women Were Dragons
In Barnhill’s feminist fantasy, women pushed to lead lives of submission instead become dragons in what is known as the Mass Dragoning of 1955. Because this transformation is tied to women’s bodies, it is considered a taboo topic. (What else is new?) But one young woman who was left behind has questions. Caught between a mother who refuses to acknowledge the existence of dragons and an aunt who transformed into one, our young narrator struggles to find her way in a world that doesn’t seem invested in her or in her dreams. Will she push back against the constraints that have been forced upon her, embracing her own inner dragon?
When You Call My Name
In 1990 New York City, Adam is going on his first date with Callum, a guy as cute as the movies he loves. Ben has just left home with nothing but the clothes on his back and a stack of fashion magazines, arriving in the city where his sexuality feels less like a threat and more like a celebration. When Callum disappears, Adam soon discovers that his first love is very sick — and there isn’t much he can do. Brought together by chance, Ben and Adam come to learn the ways in which queer friendship can bridge the gap between community and family. An essential YA novel that manages to be warm and fuzzy without glossing over darker periods of LGBTQ+ history.