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Best Books of 2022 — In Which I Fail Spectacularly to Compile a “Top Ten” List.

Image: Goodreads Year in Books 2022 – 166 Books read.

I read 166 books in 2022. Yes, some of them were shorter books: several middle-grade books and a few advanced review copies of picture books. Most were novels, though few were truly giant tomes. I really enjoyed most of them.

Which is to say, trying to pick the “top ten” was excruciating and an exercise doomed to failure. So… I cheated. Or rather, I modified the goal. Thus I present to you… my top 10 42 books read in 2022 (and even that is fudging things a bit as there are a few instances here of me using a single book to stand in for the entire series if I read the entire series in 2022 and didn’t want my list to balloon uncontrollably) organized like so:

  • Top 18 (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
  • Top 9 Romances read 2022
  • Top 9 Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022
  • Top 6 Fiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022

And just for funsies:

  • Song of the Year 2022

I have linked to the goodreads page for each book (and the youtube page for the song). Obviously these are all recommendations as well.

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 1)

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 2)

Best Romances read 2022

Best Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Best Fiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Aaaaaand, just for funsies:

Song of the Year 2022

ARC Review: Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

***You can find my reviews of the previous books in the Singing Hills Cycle here: The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain.

Synopsis:

The Hugo, Locus, Igynte Award Finalist and Crawford Award-Winning Series

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 themselves 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.

The Singing Hills Cycle

The Empress of Salt and Fortune
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
Into the Riverlands

The novellas of The Singing Hills Cycle are linked by the cleric Chih, but may be read in any order, with each story serving as an entrypoint.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this from the first sentences and it’s my favorite by far of the Singing Hills Cycle. It has more adventure and action than the first two volumes, and it also has a bit more contemplation of what makes a story. Or perhaps it’s just a different lens to view story through.

The first focused on the story of a pair of women, slowly revealed in pieces through objects and fragments of memories. The second contemplated how the same story told by two different cultures could end up very different. This took a broader look at how the stories and legends told by many people could weave together just enough truth to give a glimpse at the true story underneath.

The writing was as gorgeous as Nghi Vo’s writing always is, sharp and incisive and true. The story unfolded beautifully, and it was terribly fun to piece it together along with Chih. I highlighted so many passages of beautiful writing, as I always do when I love a book as much as I loved this one.

Over the course of the story I came to love the Riverlands, and to fear them, and to be glad that I do not actually live there. They might be a nice (if terrifying) place to visit, but I do not think my heart could take that kind of excitement every day. I was sad to leave them behind, and sad to have to leave these very intriguing characters that I have only partly glimpsed. Mostly though, I am left anticipating Chih and Almost Brilliant’s next adventure and the stories they will discover along the way.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan/Tor-Forge & Tordotcom for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Chih swallowed hard and nodded. They weren’t brave, and despite the shaved head and the indigo robes, they weren’t particularly virtuous, but more than anything else, they were curious, and sometimes that could stand in for the rest.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

She was known to be kind, which you should never confuse with being gracious or beautiful or courteous.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Chih walked the permimeter of the campground until the sun was up, and as they did so, Almost Brilliant, her breakfast forgotten or simply foregone in favor of her favorite stories, told them about the fighters and fools and freaks of the Riverlands, who may have lived in truth but certainly lived in fiction.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

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.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Book Review: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: December 8, 2020

***You can find my reviews of the other books in the Singing Hills Cycle here: The Empress of Salt and Fortune and Into the Riverlands.

Synopsis:

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in this mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was a rather interesting journey. I first tried to read it via audiobook while still pretty out of it from the flu shot and covid booster. That… didn’t go so well lol. I fell asleep quickly, slept through almost the entirety of the story, and wound up with a hazy mix of memory of the story and dream-memory of the “story.” When I was feeling more myself, I listened to it again. I stayed awake through it, but I came away unsure of how I felt about it. So I listened to it a third time and read along with the audio, and I feel like I absorbed it better that way. Or maybe it just required a second (fully conscious) listen.

Regardless, this is a lovely story that is both larger and smaller than Empress of Salt and Fortune. We again follow Chih as they journey, recording stories and histories. En route to their destination (via mammoth, because as Chih says, why wouldn’t you travel via mammoth when given the opportunity?) they encounter a trio of were-tigers and things begin to go downhill.

At its core, this is a Scheherazade story (only with tigers and mammoths). Chih stalls for time before being eaten by telling a story of the marriage of a human and a were-tiger. Only the tigers disagree with how it is told and correct it by telling their own version. This back-and-forth goes on for a while and we are given what is at its heart the same story but told through two lenses. One shaped by the culture and values of humans, and one shaped by the culture and values of tigers. It is a fascinating study of how two cultures can take the same story bones and tell two radically different stories if you focus on the details.

I am glad I both read and listened because Nghi Vo’s writing is gorgeous as always, and Cindy Kay’s narration is very well done, with believable human and tiger voices and appropriate emotion and emphasis.

Favorite Quotes:


She was a handsome woman, but the animal impassivity of her eyes and the way her teeth looked a little too large for her mouth gave her a menacing look, the tiger in her sitting in wait beneath her human skin.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

When you love a thing too much, it is a special kind of pain to show it to others and to see that it is lacking.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

They lived well-fed until they were only bones, and even their bones were happy, turning white and sharp as teeth in the moonlight.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Up close, the bull was overwhelming, a wall of solid muscle and fur that could trample an empire flat.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Book Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Singing Hills Cycle #1)

Publication Date: March 24, 2020

***You can find my reviews of the other books in the Singing Hills Cycle here: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and Into the Riverlands.

Synopsis:

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a gorgeous puzzle of a story, with the words spoken only the surface layer, hinting at what’s underneath. I loved it. It’s short enough to read comfortably in a sitting and sharp enough to make you sit and think. I look forward to the sequel.

Update 2022:

I love the structure of the story, with a cleric come to study and record for history an estate that has been locked for decades, and the deceptively simple old woman she meets there. As she moves through the house, discovering objects and recording their details, the old woman slowly reveals the history and significance of each, and along the way tells the empress’ story and her own, entrusting the cleric with the means to ruin not only herself and the previous empress, but the new empress as well – and many reasons not to do so.

Each time she finishes relating a tale or a portion of the history she asks, “Do you understand?” And slowly the cleric comes closer and closer to doing so. Brilliantly written all around.

This time I listened to the audio version and it was narrated beautifully. Even though it is a complicated story, I never felt lost as I listened. The narrator’s low, rather deep speaking voice gave the impression of someone relating secrets and gave the subject material more weight.

Favorite Quote:

“Save that anger,” Mai said with a sigh. “Angry mothers raise daughters fierce enough to fight wolves.”

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

ARC Review: Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: May 10, 2022

Synopsis:

From award-winning author Nghi Vo comes a dazzling new novel where immortality is just a casting call away.

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Gods I love Nghi Vo’s books, and they just keep getting better. This one keeps the same vibe as the Chosen & the Beautiful but lays the magic and raw ambition on much thicker. I absolutely could not look away from the Siren Queen as she clawed her way to stardom on the silver screen, finding her limits and her people along the way.

The whole idea of the movie industry as a place steeped in magic, where stars literally rise into the sky and a kind of immortality can be wrested by those who want it enough, where the cameras steal a piece of you even as they capture you on film, is brilliant. More than that, it’s written in a way that makes it believable and real and true in a way that Hollywood and show business often isn’t.

There is a hunger to these characters that echoes and leaves you empty. Pain that leaves you with a phantom ache. The way the queer characters have to hide but still find each other, the way the studios can scrape you raw and remake you and sacrifice you if you displease them is desperate and true.

The writing is gorgeous and to die for. I read it in over a little more than 24 hours and fell absolutely, madly in love with it. It is absolutely going in my top 10, probably top 5 books of the year.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and Bookishfirst for providing an arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The trains had run the night before, and her hair, hanging over her shoulder in a braid, looked like a strip torn out of the world.

Women disappear, and even if you are famous, it can happen without a sound, without a ripple.

I liked being cold as the Atlantic, somehow monstrous and untouchable.

He looked like a man carved out of rock, like a mountain ready to fall.

Time stretched like a piece of taffy. I stood on Oberlin Wolfe’s rug, and names feel from my lips like rose petals, and then like rocks.

That was where I lost the very last of my Cantonese, and it died with a soft aspirate, a consonant rhotic.

“He was shrugging into a stiff, shiny new jacket, and though he’s still big, there was something different in his eyes. Maybe this was who he used to be, or maybe I chased him out, and something else came to live inside him instead.”

She couldn’t help what she was, and I couldn’t help what I was. We were stories that should never have met, or stories that only existed because we met. I still don’t know.

They were mostly terrible choices, and being smart and lucky only meant that they were ours. We made them because otherwise it was one more choice that the studios could take away from us…

He was kind though, and I remembered the glow in his eyes when he called me a monster. In his mouth, it was a compliment, and I would much rather be a monster than a victim.

The car slipped down the road as if it came on tiger’s paws, like a menace disguised in fog.

Would I be as brave now, in the light of day? I already knew that being brave didn’t mean anything unless you were willing to do it again.

I spent November haunted by October.

There was a cragginess to her features, her strong nose and her sharp jaw. It would crash ships rather than launch them, but I never knew a woman who didn’t want to crash at least a few ships.

The entire way to Jacko’s trailer at the back of the lot, my tall heels clacked a military beat. They still pained me, but I had learned years ago that there were things more important than pain.

When I drove north to San Francisco in a dead man’s car, the Pacific Coast Road was California’s dream turned flesh, the way Illinois dreamed of Chicago.

Beautiful but not pure, my mind whispered while I begged. Nothing we had done in the shadows of the Friday fires was pure. It was better than that. It was true. It was everything I was and everything I could be—was meant to be—if only I dared. It twisted inside me, hungry and vicious and clever.

It was worth dying for, it was worth living for, and now Nemo’s daughter was walking towards me as I writhed in the sand.

Summer Reading Wrap-Up (June – August)

I kept meaning to post wrap-ups but then it was August and now it’s September and I’m just gonna post all three at once. Links go to the books’ pages on goodreads.

June

Audiobooks

Books

Favorites

July

Audiobooks

Books

Favorites

August

Audiobooks:

Books

Favorites:

Midyear Favorites Roundup

Since we’re nearly halfway through the year, I thought I’d do a quick roundup of my favorite reads of the year so far. And since I’m terribly indecisive, I ended up with top 6 new-to-me and top 6 rereads.

New to Me:

  1. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
  2. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
  3. A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark
  4. The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian
  5. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
  6. Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

Hmmm. Now that I’m thinking about it, these are all very queer.

  • Chosen and the Beautiful – bisexual lead, queer and straight relationships, cast of queer characters (who are also terrible people)
  • Witness for the Dead – gay lead, some brief allusions to past relationship and hints of potential future relationship
  • Master of Djinn – lesbian lead and relationship
  • Queer Principles of Kit Webb – gay lead and relationship
  • One Last Stop – bisexual lead and lesbian relationship, cast of queer characters
  • Broken – OK, this one isn’t queer so much as about mental illness (depression and anxiety mostly)

Rereads

  1. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
  2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  3. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley
  4. Ashlords by Scott Reintgen
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn-Jones
  6. Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim