The Best Books I Read in 2022

For me, travel and reading go hand in hand, and I did a lot of both last year. Here (in no particular order) are brief reviews of my favorite reads, the 15 books I read in 2022 that I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
The Glass Hotel was probably my top read of 2020, so my anticipation for this book was very high and it didn’t disappoint. Parts of it feel a little meta (one timeline follows the author of a famous pandemic novel who has her book tour for her second novel cut short by a real life pandemic, mirroring St. John Mandel’s 2020 experience), but I really loved the characters and the way the multiple timelines artfully intersect. It has time travel, but it doesn’t feel like science fiction, so if you’re not a big sci-fi fan don’t let that put you off.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
Historical fiction can be a tricky genre. It’s easy for an author to get so bogged down in historical details they lose sight of the “fiction” part of the moniker, but if they don’t pay enough attention to history then it feels sloppy and inaccurate. McLain threads this needle perfectly, writing compelling stories that feel like fiction first and foremost, but also transporting her reader to the time period she’s writing about. Her book The Paris Wife about Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson was excellent, and this one, about his second wife (and esteemed journalist in her own right) Martha Gelhorn, was even better. Pair with HBO’s Hemingway + Gelhorn for a multimedia experience.

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
This is the third book I’ve read about the opioid crisis after Sam Quinones’ Dreamland and Beth Macy’s Dopesick (also a great Hulu series). All of them were good, but I thought Empire of Pain‘s deep dive into the greedy Sackler family and how they built their business on lies about the non-addictiveness of Oxy was the most interesting angle. This book is actually broader than opioids; it’s an alarming (and important) look at the pharmaceutical industry’s shady marketing practices in general and is so well-researched and written.

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve read by Jennifer Haigh and this was no exception. The main character is a counselor at an abortion clinic and while the book doesn’t shy away from discussion of the abortion rights debate, it isn’t preachy. One of the things I like the most about Haigh’s writing is how she makes ordinary people and ordinary problems very interesting, and this book is a great example of that.

The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin
I really enjoyed this story about bored suburban parents set against the backdrop of the Kavanaugh hearings, which enraged and emboldened so many women. I would recommend this for anyone who likes Meg Wolitzer’s books, particularly The Female Persuasion. This is the debut adult novel from Benjamin and I’m interested in reading more from her.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
This book flashes back and forth between two stories that eventually intersect: a friend group of gay men in Chicago in the early 1980s at the start of the AIDS crisis and a mother searching for her estranged adult daughter in Paris decades later. It’s heart-breaking (of course) but also a beautifully uplifting story of friendship and second chances.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Emma Straub consistently puts out books I enjoy, but This Time Tomorrow is my favorite of hers so far. It’s kind of a reverse 13 Going on 30 where a woman on the cusp of her 40th birthday who’s not thrilled with how her life has turned out gets a chance to briefly revisit her teenage years. The premise might sound a little schmaltzy, but it’s a really moving father-daughter love story.

The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz
A slow burn multi-generational family drama is my favorite type of book, and this is a great one. The title is a reference to the late in life baby a mother has via surrogate as her beloved triplets are going off to college. It’s long and the plot unfolds somewhat slowly, but the characters are so richly drawn and I really enjoyed spending time in their world. And Hanff Korelitz’s smart observations about everything from Jewish culture to sibling dynamics to racial and class privilege were a treat.

At Risk by Stella Rimington
This year I found myself turning to spy novels when I wanted to shut my brain off and not read anything too heavy or intellectual. Rimington is the former director of MI-5 (and was the first woman to head that agency) and clearly knows her stuff. These are not James Bond novels; they feel much more realistic, with no fancy gadgets and lots of desk work, but they’re still really gripping and hard to put down. This is the first of a series of about 10 novels following heroine Liz Carlyle and while I read the whole series quickly, they do get a bit repetitive and I think the first one was my favorite of the bunch.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
If I had to pick one novel as my very favorite of 2022, it would be this one. A precocious young girl claiming to be an alien shows up in the backyard of a lonely grad student doing wildlife biology field work in rural Illinois and dealing with the loss of her mom and her own battle with breast cancer. The girl, who’s dubbed herself Ursa Major, claims she has to witness five miracles among humans before she can return to her home planet. Everyone is pretty sure she and her problems are entirely human, but somehow good things keep happening to the people around her. It’s beautiful and heart-warming in a Miracle on 34th Street sort of way (albeit with more mature themes). I also appreciated the Midwest setting, the bang-on descriptions of academic life and the great science writing about birds.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
This story, about a struggling novelist and single mom who accidentally sort of becomes a hitwoman is wildly unrealistic, but delightfully hilarious and fun. It reminded me a lot of the early Stephanie Plum novels, before Janet Evanovich handed them off to ghostwriters, down to the dueling love interests and the sassy sidekick. This would be a great beach read, and there’s already a sequel with a third book due out soon if you’re looking for a series to dive into on vacation.

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra
This book follows Maria, an Italian immigrant to the US in the 1930s, who eventually works her way up the ladder to be a producer at a Hollywood studio. You learn about her back story and the story of her father left behind in Mussolini’s Italy via flashbacks. Marra’s prose is just gorgeous and he completely transports his reader to the eras and places he’s writing about.

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen
This fast-paced novel is about an Asian-American stay at home mom who gets involved in the world of high-end counterfeit handbags via her former college roommate from mainland China. It’s a fascinating look at a world I knew little about, and has some great plot twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. But this book has more depth than you might think, and I enjoyed Chen’s thoughts on the Chinese-American experience, the model minority stereotype and the all-consuming nature of early motherhood.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
This is historical fiction about the life of Lucrezia de’ Medici, a daughter of the famous Tuscan royal family, who may or may not have been murdered by her husband at age 16. I adore O’Farrell’s writing and this was more of a thriller than I expected given that Lucrezia’s fate is revealed before the book begins.

Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close
This is another fantastic family drama about the young adult generation of a Chicago-area family that owns a popular bar and restaurant (the title is a reference to how restaurant servers combine ketchup bottles that are running low, but also a metaphor for marriage and joining this larger than life family). I grew to love these characters and laughed, cried and cheered for them, and I enjoyed Close’s witty and observant writing (some of her one-liners about parenting young kids had me laughing out loud).

I review pretty much all the books I read on my Instagram stories and save them to a highlight, and you can follow me on Goodreads here.

What have you been reading lately? Anything I should add to my list?

2 thoughts on “The Best Books I Read in 2022

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