The Fiction Fox
Year in Review: Favourite Books of 2022
It’s finally time to talk about the best of the best, the cream of the crop; my top 10 favourite reads of 2022. As previous years, this will be a count-down of my subjective favourites; the books that I personally enjoyed, or resonated with the most. My top 5 are all new all-time favourites for sure. The remaining 5 were favourites of the year, but I have yet to see if they stand the test of time. Because there were so many great candidates, I had to be even stricter in my rules for eligibility than usual, to be able to narrow it down to a top 10.
- Only books I’ve read for the first time in 2022 are eligible. This to avoid repetition and domination of these list by rereads of my all-time favourites.
- One book per author, again, for similar reasons.
- Entire series and duologies go into one slot.
- Unreleased ARCs and proof copies of books that have yet to be released are not eligible for this year’s list, but potentially for next years.
With that being said, I do have 3 honourable mentions that fell outside those, but deserved a mention anyway. First I have my reread of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel in the lead up to her newest release. Both these novels are all-time favourites and more than held up to reread. Mandels phenomenal writing and layered storytelling made me pick up on even more elements that I’d missed on my first read and cemented her as a deeply deserving top 3 author of all time. Similarly The Singer's Gun by her didn’t make the list because of the one-book-per-author clausula.
My second honourable mention goes to another reread for which I found a new level of enjoyment upon revisit. Cage of Souls is a sci-fi-fantasy hybrid set in a prison on an inhospitable jungle-island in a postapocalyptic world. We follow the trials and tribulations of Stefan Advani, a scholarly political prisoner, as he attempt to navigate prison-politics with his brain, rather than brawl. This is a very character-driven book that combines a dark story of corruption and misfortune with satire, humour and a fantastic cast of memorable characters. Highly recommended!
Third and final honourable mention goes to How High We Go in the Dark. This book might have made my favourites list, had I had the correct expectations for it going into it. This is an emotionally impactful post-pandemic story in the literary tradition of Cloud Atlas. This was sold to me distinctly as a novel, but in fact reads more like a short-story collection. Tonally and emotionally, this was a 5-star read, but as a novel I found it lacked coherence. If you approach it as a melancholic collection of character driven post-apocalyptic short-stories however, I think it works phenomenally.
With the honourable mentions out of the way, it’s time to move into the main list. Let’s talk about my top 10 favourite reads of 2022.
10. Never the Wind by Franscesco Dimitri
Coming in at the number 10 is immediately my latest addition to this list, and one that could’ve easily gone into the most-surprising list as well. I went into this book under a bit of a false assumption that this was fantasy, as it’s sold and shelved as such. I however, would classify it more so as a coming of age novel with some influences of magical realism and gothic horror, very similar to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Likewise, this story is told from the point of view of an adult (possibly unreliably) recounting the fragmentary memories of the summer he turned 13. It’s 1996, and our protagonist Luca has recently lost his vision due to retinitis pigmentosa. His parents, reeling from the diagnosis, have uprooted the family to move across the country to a Southern Italian farmhouse, leaving Luca in an environment completely foreign and daunting to him.
Navigating this new world without sight, through his remaining senses, Luca befriends Ada; a local girl who takes him out to explore the rocky fields and empty beaches. Their adventures are interrupted when frightening events start to occur to Luca. Are they hallucinations, manifestations of his own fears or something else entirely? I loved the representation of vision-loss and the way Luca’s story was told through his other senses. The novel doesn’t shy away from playing into the vulnerability Luca feels because of it, but never portrays him as a helpless victim, or use his blindness as an inappropriate plot-tool. Luca is a wonderful and memorable character, both as a 13-year old boy and as an adult retrospective narrator. I’m a sucker for this style, especially when the author interjects subtle hints of future experiences within this narration, and was pleasantly surprised to see it in this book. The last surprise in this novel was how deeply engaged and at times slightly unsettled I was throughout. Never the Wind sets up an intriguing mystery that I doesn’t rely on the “twist” to keep you on the edge of your seat. Instead, it’s your investment in this story and the characters that keeps you going, desperate to find out if Luca was going to be okay. Highly recommended, both as a coming of age story, as well as general fiction with a disabled protagonist. Readalikes: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
9. A Face for Picasso by Ariel Henley
At number 9 is the only non-fiction/memoir to make the list this year. I’ve compared it to Sitting Pretty, which made my favourites-list of last year, as both are disability-related memoirs by incredibly eloquent and insightful authors. Ariel Henley chronicles the story of her (as well as her twin-sisters’) childhood and coming of age with Crouzon syndrome - a rare condition where the bones in the head fuse prematurely, leading to impairment of function, pain and disfigurement of the face. This was one of the very first books I read in 2022, and yet its still so vividly in my mind that I couldn’t deny it a spot on this list. The amount of research Henley has done for this book, both medically, as well as rereading her own journals and family’s documentation of these experiences, is astounding. She seamlessly interweaves topics of disability, beauty-standards, sisterhood, physical pain and the impact of the constant drastic changing of your face (both as a result of her disease, as well as through surgical “repairs”) on a developing identity. On a personal level, I was caught off guard by how much I related to some of Henley’s descriptions of a childhood dominated by medical intervention. The same goes for her discussion on the experience of being the first child to survive a rare diagnosis; simultaneously being seen as a wonder of medical ingenuity, but also dealing with the uncertainty, loneliness and at times feeling like “an experiment” that comes with being a first. Although it made my list for very personal reasons, I highly recommend this book to a broader audience. Henley has such a powerful and striking voice and many of her larger themes and discussions will resonate with many readers regardless. Readalikes: Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body
8. Founders Side trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Coming in at number 8, we have a complete fantasy series. Although I read Foundryside back in 2021, I finished this trilogy in 2022 which cemented my love for it. This is a high fantasy series with a very unique science-based magic system based in Alchemy and inscribing everyday objects with properties they don’t naturally possess, appropriately named “scribing”. In the first book, we discover the hidden art of scribing alongside our protagonist Sancia, a thief who, unbeknownst to her, steals an object of immeasurable power during a seemingly normal job. What follows is a story of magic, science, unlikely allies, and a political power battle between the merchant Houses of the city of Tevanne. The first book already tells a fantastic, high-stakes and adventurous tale, and the rest of the series continues to surprise by broadening the scope of the story and building on the character-relations amongst a cast I truly came to love. I highly recommend this series, especially to fans of the Mistborn (first era) series, as its characters and unique magic-system reminded me most of his writing. Readalikes: Mistborn
7. Yerba Buena – Nina LaCour
In the number 7 spot is another staple-author for my favourite list over the past few years. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: nobody writes grief with the same bittersweet mix of melancholy and hope as Nina Lacour does. With Yerba Buena, she’s done it again. This is adult contemporary/literary fiction with a strong F-F romance in which we follow the growing relationship and emotional healing of two young women, after they meet in the titular bar/restaurant. Both carry with them the grief over past events and are stuck in a state of “surviving” on auto-pilot. Together, they embark on a journey of healing, tentative love, and learning how to live rather than survive again. I can keep it short with this book: I loved Nina’s writing, loved these characters, was on board with the romance (which is rare for me), and I came close to crying with how hard this book hit me in the feelings. My full review can be found here. I highly recommend Nina Lacours work to anyone who want a strong, but not pessimistic, portrayal of grief and healing from trauma. Be aware however: although this is listed in the “romance-section” in Goodreads, it obviously isn’t your light-fluffy read, so make sure you get into this story with the correct expectations.
6. Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
Ninth Rain first came to my attention when I heard Elliot Brooks talk about it in one of her recommendation videos. I had never even heard of- or seen this series in stores, so I had very little expectations going into it. What I ended up with was an absolute underrated gem of a fantasy-sci-fi-hybrid, brimming with a vivid world and likable, engaging characters.
The backflap- description is purposely vague, and so will my synopsis here be, as a lot of the fun for me was figuring out what the heck was going on in this world.
We begin our story in once great city of Ebora; once the home of riches, wisdom and ruling tree-gods, now fallen into derelict after a world cataclysmic event only referred to as “the Eight Rain”. We follow three protagonists; an adventurous archaeologists/explorer (think female Indiana Jones, but British), a shy outlawed witch with a tendency for setting accidental fires, and a vain but charismatic Eborean fallen from grace, who’s ego hasn’t yet had the time to catch up to his new underdog status. When a series of unusual events hints at the possibility of a looming Ninth Rain, the three of them form an unlikely expedition team as they set out to uncover the mysteries of The Eight Rain, in order prepare for what’s to come.
I’ve never quite read a book that so perfectly blended sci-fi and fantasy elements ánd had such a great cast of characters. Vin, Tormalin and Noon jumped out from the pages from the start and their quick-witted banter and William’s fast paced writing were a wonderful contrast against the density and heaviness that the world offered. I cannot wait to read the rest of this series, as well potentially some more of the authors backlist. I’m feeling like this might become a new favourite fantasy series.
5. Ghost Music by An Yu
With my top 5, we’re also entering all-time favourite territory. I’m so excited to have 4 debut- or new to me authors in here, the first of which is An Yu. I read both her debut and sophomore novel this year, the second of which blew me away with how much I loved it.
Ghost Music is literary fiction with a slight element of magical realism, that follows a young woman’s quiet identity crisis, after she gave up her dreams of becoming a concert pianist, in favour of being a housewife. She’s having trouble adjusting to
her new lives, especially with her argumentative mother in law critiquing her every step of the way. The magical element comes in when a mysterious delivery of mushrooms arrives at her doorstep, seemingly by mistake. These mushrooms act as a conversation starter between the two women, as they cook them up for dinner, swapping stories of their pasts and future dreams. They also act as the catalyst of a series of hallucinatory dreams in which Song Yu must come to turns with the loss of her musical career.
Beneath the ethereal and strange motifs within this book is a strongly rooted character study with themes of identity and grief at its core. Grief, not in the traditional sense of losing a loved one, but grief of losing a life and dream you’ve attached part of your personal identity to.
This book made my top 5 for how brilliantly it was written. This is short and yet deeply powerful and layered. It manages to be completely strange and “experimental” at times, but deeply relatable on a personal level as well. If you’ve ever questioned your place in life, the paths taken and not taken, and found yourself homesick for a life you cannot lead (anymore), this book might strike a chord with you. I highly recommend it, even if you don’t typically read any magical realism. You can find my full review here.
4. Sea of Tranquillity by Emily St. John Mandel
"We knew it was coming."
I guess you could say that for this entry as well, since I had to put all of Emily St. John Mandels books in the honourable mentions. Her latest release Sea of Tranquillity is my fourth favourite read of 2022, and it’s another all-time favourite by her. This is a character-driven sci-fi story with elements of time travel, set in the same universe as Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. It’s a fragmentary, yet powerfully connected tale, that floats on the currents of time, reaching from a pastoral garden in 1912’s Vancouver Island, to a dark colony on the moon in the 2400’s. I go into depth (aka write a loveletter to this book) in my full review here, but in short, here’s why you should read it: Mandel is an artist with words, and keeps getting better and better with every release. Her prose is stunning, serene, melancholic and quietly brilliant as always. Her characters, some of which make a subtle reappearance from her first 2 books, are wonderful, memorable and human. The structure of this novel is impeccable, connecting threads and weaving through time to make a tapestry of unexpected beauty that I can only admire.
I highly recommend this book for fans of character-driven sci-fi and literary fiction alike. I honestly had such a great time rereading her works back to back in the lead-up to this release, that I’m considering making a Mandel-athon a personal yearly tradition.
3. This Appearing House by Ally Malinenko
It has become somewhat of a tradition that a single hard-hitting middle-grade novel makes my favourites-list. It’s usually one with themes close to my own heart, and one I wish I had had when I was within the target age-range. All of this is more true than ever for my pick for 2022. Landing itself the number 3 spot is This Appearing House by Ally Malinenko; a middle-grade horror novel about a girl and her best friend who accidentally find themselves trapped in a haunted house when out exploring in the neighbourhood. And the house isn’t willing to let them go so easily; first they must exorcize some of their own personal demons and face their worst fears. The only way out it through.
This happens to already be one of my favourite tropes, but what cemented this book as a new favourite was our protagonist Jac’s journey through the house. Jac is a childhood cancer survivor, and many of her fears and experiences within the house deal with her experiences as such. As a childhood cancer survivor myself, this book did a lot of powerful things, but most importantly, it offered a way of representation that I’ve never seen in a children’s book before. It shows us a girl who lives, and continues to live through cancer. Jac says it best within the book herself:
"She didn’t blame her mother; she understood. She’d read the books. The stories were always the same; kid got sick, everyone felt bad. Kid taught everyone to love in a deeper, more meaningful way. Kid died. Everyone remembered kid as a hero. That was the only story she had ever known. She’d never read about a kid who’d gone through what she had, and lived."
This Appearing House offers that story. It’s a harrowing one, but also one of strength and courage. It shows young readers that the story of cancer doesn’t have a binary ending (death or happily ever after).
I can see this being a very niche book, and perhaps one that some parents will actively keep away from their child because it deals with “too heavy topics”. Yet I can tell you from experience; it’s so important for these books to exist for the kids who experience and need these stories. Thank you Ally for providing them (as well as the little girl within me) with one.
2. Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
If you’ve seen my mid-year freakout, you knew this one was coming. Julia Armfield’s debut novel is a literary horror story featuring themes of the deep ocean, grief, loss and alienation (in an environmental, personal as well as relationship level). It follows the unravelling relationship between two women after one of them returns from a deep-sea mission that ended in tragedy, and this life-altering experience creates a rift in their lives.
You can find my full review here, but in short: I’ve been haunted by this book ever since I read it, and I love it for it. Although there is never any out-right horror on page, this novel got under my skin with its atmosphere of alienation, in a way that I’ve been fruitlessly chasing ever since I read Annihilation years ago. In essence, this is a story about a life-changing (traumatic) experience, and how it forever splits your life into “before-and-after”. You return changed and can never completely relate to your unchanged loved ones from the “before” in the same way again after. Armfield captured that dynamic, that discomfort and the grief that comes with that loss perfectly.
After having already loved the authors short-story collection Salt Slow, Armfield has quickly become an author I’ll be keeping track off and reading anything they put out from henceforth.
Readalikes: Kirsty Logan, Annihilation.
1. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer
Even though I read and loved many books, choosing a favourite wasn’t difficult this year, as one stood out clearly above them all in the impression it left on me. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is Maddie Mortimers fittingly spectacular debut; a lyrical novel about a woman, her body and the illness that co-inhabits it. Told from the perspectives of Lia herself, her daughter Iris and the callous, cynical, taunting, and ironically caring voice of the disease itself, we follow her life after a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
This is one of the most difficult favourites for me to review in a way that’ll make sense to someone who doesn’t know me personally. I can say that I loved the characters; how full and lifelike they were, and how deeply I related to them. I can say I adored the writing style, which is a strange and beautiful amalgamation of prose and poetry (think Grief is the Thing with Feathers) that cost me half a pack of sticky-notes to annotate all the gorgeous passages. I can say I cried over this book, even though I can count the number of books that have done that to me on the fingers of one hand. Yet all of this wouldn’t quite cover the depth to which I loved it.
“Objectively”, I want to give this book to any fan of modern-fiction, especially if you enjoy themes of motherhood, body and the senseless search of making sense of a limited time left on this earth. What I truly would want, is to give my experience with this book to anyone.
The way this book resonated with my personal journey (starting with childhood cancer, and by the time I read this book having just landed my dream-job as an MD in the department of Oncology) is an experience I will treasure in all its bittersweet glory, as an all-time favourite.
You can find more of my thoughts in my original review here.
Readalikes: Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Mrs Death Misses Death
Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, or had any favourites in your reading-year that you think I might enjoy. I always love this time of year for gathering inspiration and compiling my TBR for next year from the favourites of my friends. On that note: please be sure to check back in tomorrow for my final part in this Year In Review series: my most anticipated new releases for 2023. Happy reading and until then.