Welcome to Book Riot’s Best Books of 2022 (so far)! It’s been another fantastic year in books and we’re sharing our favorites published between January 1 and June 30. You’ll find reads across all genres, from psychological horror to a memoir about disability and motherhood and a historical fantasy full of feminist rage (plus dragons!). Without further ado, we present to you this wide range of titles to add to your summer TBR. Happy reading!
Acts of Violet
An iconic Gen X magician disappears mid-performance and is never seen again, leaving her family behind to pick up the pieces and deal with the press? Sign me up! Told through a podcast recounting the disappearance, the narration of Sasha, the younger sister, and various media pieces covering the life and times of Violet Volk, the infamous magician, Acts of Violet is a story of family, loss, love, and life that is magical in more than one way.
Nora Stephens is the ice queen whose boyfriends inevitably leave her for the small-town girl with the heart of gold. Charlie Lastra is the blunt, cold editor who never smiles. They’re city people. But they get to know each other in the unlikely small-town setting of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, where they find in each other the one person who fully understands them and doesn’t want them to be anyone else. This is a love story for the ages, about two people who won’t compromise — and, for once, don’t have to.
This book, which came out at the beginning of the year, is an absolute stunner. Written in the first person plural, in a rhythmic Greek chorus of brown girls who are growing up in Queens, New York, it covers everything from childhood to female friendships to race to the tug of war between ambition and loyalty. It is about home. It is about family. It is about being a woman. But most of all, it is about being a brown girl who is struggling to find her way in the world.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is the first book in a fantasy romance duology inspired by Chinese mythology. The story follows Xingyin. Her mother hid her for years from the Celestial Emperor, but when her magic surfaced she fled home— and fell right into the Celestial Kingdom’s court. Forced to disguise her identity, Xingyin befriends the prince. But she won’t forget her mother, and she embarks on an epic quest to try to save her from her curse. Full of magic, treachery, and romantic angst this book is absolutely worth reading!
Delilah Green Doesn’t Care
Finally, I have found a romance series that fills the Brown Sisters hole in my heart. The romance between Delilah, the photographer from New York reluctantly back in town for her stepsister’s wedding, and Claire, the small town bookstore owner mom, is great, but it’s the relationship between Delilah and her stepsister, Astrid, that is at the heart of the novel. I love their complicated dynamic, each resentful of the other for reasons they’ve never really spoken about. This was an absorbing read that kept me flipping the pages hours after I meant to sleep, and I can’t wait to pick up the sequel!
Disorientation: A Novel
This book was equal parts hilarious and cringe. Calling it merely satire about a racial awakening isn’t enough. Our protagonist is Ingrid Yang, a Taiwanese American eighth year Ph.D. student who has no clue about her thesis. We follow her descent into absurdity as she researches a renowned Chinese American poet. This leads to numerous hijinks and the eventual peeling back of the layers of the overwhelming whiteness of the East Asian Studies Department and her own internalized white supremacy. Content warnings for massive amounts of anti-Asian racism. I was not the same person at the end of reading this book that I was before reading it.
Easy Beauty: A Memoir
In her memoir, Chloé Cooper Jones writes with the emotional depth and understanding of someone searching for meaning in a society that questions whether or not people like her should exist. Born with sacral agenesis, a condition that affects her height and gait, Jones has grown to expect the weird looks and hushed whispers from the people around her. But when she becomes a mother, Jones begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her place in the world. Easy Beauty approaches disability with a vivid clarity that refuses to shy away from the complex reality of the very notion of what it means to be human.
I’m more of a casual Buffy fan than a diehard but I’ve always admired its influence and legacy in popular culture and academia, and the dedication with which author Evan Ross Katz relays his passion for the series while diving into the grand joys and contradictions of Buffy for its 25th anniversary was so fun to read. Thorough pop culture analysis that also incorporates humor and personal narrative is hard to come by, but Katz does it with ease. Examining the ways in which the media we consume growing up shapes us and destroys us, Into Every Generation a Slayer is Born is the ultimate read for anyone obsessed with millennial pop culture.
Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle
This picture book is so charming and lovely, from the tender relationship between two mothers and their daughter to the beautiful pastel watercolor illustrations. A girl always sits between her mommy and mama, but Mommy leaving on a work trip throws her routine off. With Mama’s supportive presence, the little girl faces every day of the week until her Mommy arrives on Sunday. This is such a good SEL picture book. I love reading it aloud to my daughter; each character’s voice naturally presents itself through the prose. And the character’s expressions are so loving. The little girl and her mommy have vitiligo, which I don’t often see.
Meet Me Halfway
This emotive romance about a single mother and her grumpy neighbor doesn’t shy away, be it from the hard parts of life or the feelings love creates. For Madison, her son is who matters most in her life. Working two, sometimes three, jobs and going through night-time online classes, you could say she doesn’t have time for anything else, especially not love. But, as we know, love comes from unexpected places… or sometimes from the house next door. Her grumpy neighbor is hard to crack, but Madison and her son, Jamie, easily enter his life and fill it with colors he never thought possible.
More Than You’ll Ever Know
I picked this up because of the premise: Cassie Bowman wants to write a true crime book on a case from the ’80s by interviewing Lore Rivera, who was married in Laredo, Texas to one man and in Mexico City to another until one husband was arrested for murdering the other. I stayed for: the two women at the center of the story plus the exploration of the ethics of true crime journalism, the effects of economic crisis, motherhood, marriage, family, having one foot in two countries, what we owe others, and the question of whether we can ever really know a person…If you audiobook, absolutely go with that format: Inés del Castillo and Yareli Arizmendi are excellent.
Olga Dies Dreaming
From the outside, high society wedding planner Olga and her politician brother Prieto are doing well. But the truth is that their Nuyorican family is dysfunctional, and their absent, radical mother’s help is only making things worse. As the various forces in Olga’s life collide, she must reckon with her own family’s past and present. This book completely blew me away from the first sentence, and I still can’t stop thinking about its vivid characters. Fun fact: It’s currently being adapted into a Hulu series starring Aubrey Plaza!
I’ve loved Huneven’s work since her extremely accurate depiction of 12-step recovery in Blame. If I hadn’t already been reading everything she’s written, I don’t know that you could have talked me into reading a book about the search process of finding a new church leader for a Unitarian Universalist church. It sounds very boring. Who wants to read about a bunch of meetings and infighting? As it turns out, I do! This is a great example of the fact that a good author can make any topic fascinating and hilarious.
Solo Dance is a book that brings up several interesting themes: queerness, emigration, abuse, trauma, and death. It is the story of a young Taiwanese woman living in Japan and dealing with a lot of the things most people deal with in their twenties, from failed relationships to trying to figure out the meaning of life. But it is also about a main character who goes through several changes, and losses, and who is deeply aware of the role of death in life. Beautifully written too.
This glorious, queer Arthurian retelling was exactly the book I needed this first half of 2022. Atmospheric, beautiful, and full of magic, it follows Peretur on her quest from a cave beyond a thicket to the kingdom of Caer Leon, where Artos reigns. Peretur seeks glory and clues to her past. Traveling the land on her faithful steed Bony (10/10 the bestest of horses), Peretur gains the love of the sorceress Nimuë and the friendship and respect of Artos’ court of warriors. Griffith has such a command of language in this book, creating a lush and epic tale that I was loathe to leave.
Stuck With You
Ali Hazelwood is one of my favorite authors because she writes such on-point humor in her romances. I’m seriously cackling throughout her swoony stories, and they’re just about my favorite comfort reads of all time. Plus, they’ve got some sexy Star Wars fandom vibes. While I loved all three novellas in Hazelwood’s The STEMinist Novellas series, this one was my favorite. Civil engineer Sadie doesn’t think things can get any worse after she gets stuck in a New York City elevator with Erik, the man who broke her heart. Yet maybe this forced proximity is just what these two misunderstood lovebirds need to make things right between them.
Catriona Ward’s novel The Last House on Needless Street was my favorite book of 2021. So the hype for Sundial was real for me, and it did not disappoint. This psychological horror novel follows Rob, who escaped her childhood home Sundial in search of a normal life. Now she has a husband, two kids, and a house in the suburbs, but the fears of what she’s left behind remain. And in her oldest daughter Callie, who collects bones and talks to imaginary friends, Rob sees echos of her past. From reading Ward’s previous work, I was expecting twists. Yet Sundial still managed to surprise me.
Anyone who thinks all romance novels are set in an unrealistic fantasyland has clearly not read Mia Hopkins’ Eastside Brewery series. The books have always centered on working class characters and tackled themes like generational trauma and societal reentry for those who have been incarcerated. Tanked, set in 2021, goes even further by addressing COVID head on: Angel’s family is on the verge of losing their business when he reconnects with Deanna, a social worker facing a layoff. Their connection is immediately hot – VERY hot – but it’s the way the couple navigates grief and instability to build something deeper that sets this story apart.
The Candy House
I’m all about untraditional narratives and Jennifer Egan delivers once again. It’s a series of interconnected stories in various formats (including what feels like a Twitter short story) that center around the future of social media. What if you could upload your entire consciousness to the Cloud so you won’t forget…and if you opt for it, could share it with others? Folks familiar with her award-winning A Visit from the Good Squad might recognize characters in this book but to call it a sequel would be unfair to both books. It’s a book I couldn’t put down and hope you enjoy!
The Hurting Kind
Organized into four seasons from “Spring” to “Winter,” Ada Limón’s sixth collection spotlights nature. Exploring connection, longing, love, witnessing, and wonder, these pages are full of living things: northbound gray whales, horses, a jar thick with scorpions, whiptail lizards, bright yellow forsythia. From the lesson of a hawk’s wing displayed on a wall to cypress trees entangled in a kiss, these stunning poems inspire awe, presence, and noticing. I’ll keep this book close: to celebrate summer’s arrival and the peak of fall by rereading a section; to savor sentences like this in “Only the Faintest Blue”: “I felt most myself by the river.”
The Other Mother
This surprising and layered novel is the queer family saga of my dreams. It begins when a young man arrives at college, determined to learn more about the father he never knew. Instead, he learns about his mother’s former lover—the other mother he never knew. From there, his family’s story unfolds across decades, through several POVs. It’s about grief and silence, cultural and racial identity, art and motherhood. It’s full of characters who are raucous in their humanness: striving, hurting, loving. I wanted to read about them forever—and I can’t wait to revisit them, because this one is going straight to the top of the reread list.
The Red Palace
I’ve devoured every book June Hur has written, so no surprise here that her newest book is one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Like her first two novels, this one combines historical fiction set in Joseon-era Korea with elements of mystery and thriller. And when the question of who killed some of her fellow nursing students arises, palace nurse Hyeon is thrust into a world of royal intrigue and danger that could put her in the path of an infamous historical serial killer. I might as well inject Hur’s writing straight into my veins for how quickly I gobble up everything she writes. Seriously, it’s that good.
The Shadow Glass
When I was a kid, I loved (and still love) Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. My cousins and I would recite the “You Remind Me of the Babe” lines to no end, and I was always mystified by the movie’s eerie, yet whimsical setting. This book is the only thing I’ve read that captures the dark and dreamlike feel of 80s cult fantasy like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story. It’s a beautifully written homage to that era of filmmaking. It follows Jack Corman, son of disgraced filmmaker and puppeteer Bob Corman. When he inherits his childhood home following his father’s death, Jack discovers that the world Bob captured in his cult classic movie The Shadow Glass is real— and that the inhabitants need Jack’s help.
Julie Otsuka’s The Swimmers is a masterfully told hymn to community with deep psychological insight. First, her novel opens with a chorus of swimmers who form their own little community of camaraderie and shared obsession. When a crack appears in the bottom of the pool, their peaceful status quo is shaken up. In the final two sections, Otsuka zeroes in on one of the swimmers in particular, Alice, who struggles with dementia. Heartbreaking, profound, and lyrical, Otsuka’s novel is one novel from 2022 you won’t want to miss.
I have read this amazing novel four times now, and may start it again when I’m done writing this. It’s a funny, heart-squeezing, slightly magical story of a family in a small town in New Hampshire. Emma, the daughter, who has healing powers, leaves medical school to come home and help care for her dying father. He is talking to ghosts and ordering wild animals on the internet, among other things. There’s also a look at the opioid epidemic in NH, a missing friend, a group of middle grade students, a private forest, a theatrical production, and so much more. This book speaks directly to my heart and warms it, and it will do the same for you.
When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold
How does society deal with the problem of a female murderer? That’s what Chilean writer and trained lawyer Alia Trabucco Zerán sets out to investigate. She looks at the way four women murderers were investigated, tried, judged, sensationalized, romanticized, pardoned, forgotten, and immortalized, and digs into what it says about gender roles, “proper” femininity, women’s anger, and the intersections of class and race. She has to dig pretty deep—most of those stories have been romanticized, erased, or otherwise silenced. This nonfiction book is reflective, intersectional, and will be absolutely fascinating to any feminist or true crime lover.
When Women Were Dragons
This angry and emotional historical fantasy feels all too relevant for 2022, but it’s not just the intriguing and timely premise that makes this a stand out pick. With gorgeous prose, Barnhill explores the nature of anger and the ways we justify injustice in order to uphold the status quo, all while reminding readers of the importance of taking care of each other, even if it goes against convention.
You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty
After years buried in grief, Feyi is ready to try again. But instead of looking for a partner, she’d rather go with hookups and Just A Friends. When her newest Friend offers to help boost her artistic career, she finds something much more in an unexpected place. A lot of people say their books are not like the others, but this book is truly Not Like Other Romances. In some ways, that’s revolutionary; Emezi isn’t afraid to to take the messiest bisexual grieving artist you will ever see, and put her through an emotional wringer. But it’s also not a romance? It’s a personal journey with a very important love story attached. And it’s spectacular.
Zyla & Kai
Zyla is a cynic who doesn’t believe in love. Kai is a true romantic and serial dater. When they meet working summer jobs at an amusement park, it isn’t exactly love at first sight. But eventually they do fall in love, before a tumultuous series of events breaks them up in the middle of the year. But if they are broken up, why did they run away together on their senior trip to the Poconos? Set in dual timelines, this novel explores just that question. Zyla and Kai’s journey is exciting, romantic, and completely transporting. It reminds me of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and the novels that made me first fall in love with YA romance.