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Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Reads of 2022

Happy New Year! I've been working hard over the past few days to transition everything on my blog from 2022 to 2023. 2022 was kind of a ho-hum reading year for me. I'm hoping for better in 2023. May all of us find some great books to enjoy this year and share with each other.

For today's TTT topic, we're looking back at our favorite reads of 2022. I didn't read a lot of five-star, A-grade books last year, but I did manage to come up with ten that I loved. We'll get to that in a sec.

Before we do that, be sure to click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl and give our lovely hostess, Jana, some love. While you're there, get all the details about TTT so you can join in the fun!

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2022
- in no particular order - 

1. The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan—I've read most of Ryan's novels and enjoyed them all. This one features four English women from different walks of life who find themselves vying for an alluring prize in a BBC-sponsored baking competition. This is a warm book filled with likable characters and a whole lot of heart. Since the contest is focused on making appetizing food from ration book ingredients, it's one food-centered book that did not make me hungry! LOL.

2. I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys—Sepetys is one of my favorite writers of historical YA novels, so it's no surprise this book, her newest, was my most memorable read of 2023. I Must Betray You tells a grim story about a Romanian teenager living in poverty under the tyrannical reign of President Nicolae Ceausescu. When he is caught by the secret police for a minor infraction, Cristian is forced to become an informer. He tries to use his unique position to undermine the government instead, but joining the revolution just might cost him everything he holds dear. Is it worth it? 

The stark tone of this novel deftly echoes Cristian's gut-wrenching experiences with fear, paranoia, helplessness, and desperation. It's not a happy book with a neat ending, but it is illuminating, powerful, and important.

3. Buried in a Good Book by Tamara Berry—I loved this first installment in a new cozy mystery series becuase it's just so much fun. It stars a bestselling thriller writer who's in desperate need of a getaway after her divorce. Tess drags her unhappy teenaged daughter with her when she retreats to her grandfather's rustic cabin in the woods for a summer of off-the-grid relaxation. The duo has barely stepped through the door when an explosion rocks the forest, shattering any R&R illusions, and propelling them into an intriguing real-life murder investigation.

4. Any Other Family by Eleanor Brown—This novel features three women who have all adopted children from the same birthmother. Although the adoptive mothers are very different from one another, Tabitha—the pushiest of them—insists they, their children, and their partners should be one big, happy family so that their kids can remain close to their biological half-siblings. Tensions are already high as they all gather for a long summer getaway, but things get even more complicated when the birthmother calls with the news that she is pregnant again and wants one of them to adopt the baby.

Brown is an adoptive mother herself, so Any Other Family feels especially intimate and authentic. I saw myself and my own experience with adopting a child in each of the three birthmothers. At the same time, the novel helped me see adoption in new ways. For these reasons and more, I quite enjoyed this heartwarming story.

5. The Girls With No Names by Serena Burdick—In Gilded Age New York City, the Tildon sisters live lives of wealth and privilege. When they accidentally stumble upon a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the oldest sister, becomes smug, acting out as she pleases. When the young woman mysteriously disappears from home one day, Effie fears Mr. Tildon has made good on his threat to admit Luella to the House of Mercy, an asylum for wayward girls that looms not far from the Tildons' luxurious home. Desperate to free her sister, Effie gets herself committed. It doesn't take her long, however, to realize that she has made a grave miscalculation which leaves her stuck in the cold, unloving embrace of a stark institution that is no kind of home. How can she save herself, let alone her sister?

Grim and heartbreaking, The Girls With No Names is also illuminating, empowering, and moving. Despite its harsh subject matter, it's also surprisingly hopeful.

6. New From Here by Kelly Yang—I've read a few children's books lately about the COVID-19 pandemic and this one captured the experience best for me. The story concerns Knox Wei-Evans, a 10-year-old boy from a mixed-race family (his mother is Chinese-American and his father is a white American) that has been living in Hong Kong. As things worsens in Asia, Knox's parents make the difficult decision to move most of the family to their summer home in California to be on the safe side. Knox's father has to stay behind in Asia to work, while his mother herds him and his two siblings back to the U.S. Divided across two continents, the family has to deal with food shortages, financial problems, missing each other, job loss, quarantine, etc. As Asian-Americans, they also experience targeted racism that frightens and angers them. Will the all the conflict and division tear their family apart completely?

Based on the author's family's own experience during the pandemic, New From Here is a very intimate portrayal of how COVID-19 affected families, especially those with Asian roots. There are some far-fetched scenes in the book that stretched my willing suspension of disbelief, but for the most part, I found this novel to be tender, moving, engrossing, and thought-provoking.

7. The Maid by Nita Prose—Molly Gray loves nothing more than order and tidiness, which makes her perfect for her job as a housekeeper at a grand hotel. She doesn't relate well to people, though, so when a murder occurs at her workplace, her odd behavior immediately makes her a suspect. Her keen eye for detail makes her especially good at detecting, a skill she will need if she hopes to clear her name.

This fun, engrossing murder mystery deserves all the hype it has received. It's clever, entertaining, hopeful, and just all-around enjoyable.

8. Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner—I love Meissner's immersive, dual-timeline novels and this one, her newest, is one of my favorites. It takes place at a vineyard in California, where a young vinedresser is living and working after her parents are killed in an accident. The owners of the vineyard are raising Rosanne as something between a daughter and a housekeeper. When she becomes pregnant, the vineyard owners throw her out, leaving her to find her own way. A decade later, a concerned relative comes looking for Rosanne and her child. Horrified by what she discovers, Helen Calvert is determined to make things right.

With a focus on eugenics and special needs children, Only the Beautiful is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. It asks important questions while telling an engrossing, moving story.

9. Ghost by Jason Reynolds—I've been meaning to read Reynolds for years, but it took me until the end of 2022 to finally do it. Ghost is the first book in Reynolds' middle-grade Track series, which concerns a group of kids who come together to compete on an elite, inner-city track-and-field team. Castle "Ghost" Cranshaw knows how to run. Having a violent, alcoholic father taught him that. He's never run on a team, though, so when he happens upon a track practice, he's fascinated. When the coach takes Ghost under his wing and allows him to walk on to the team, Ghost gets the chance to channel all his pent-up anger into becoming a star athlete. Can he learn enough self-mastery to earn a real place on the team?

Ghost is so full of heart that you can't help but love it. I especially enjoyed listening to the book (and the whole series, actually) on audio. The narrator, Guy Lockard, brings a fun and poignant Will Smith-like voice to the story that adds an appealing layer to an already excellent novel.

10. Yonder by Ali Standish—Set in Appalachia during World War II, this middle-grade novel is about the friendship between Danny Timmons and Jack Bailey. Jack has been the town hero ever since his heroic efforts saved two children from drowning. Danny has always looked up to the older boy, so when Jack mysteriously vanishes, he's concerned. Did Jack's father beat him one too many times? Has Jack run away to Yonder, the magical town he always talked about where everyone is friendly and there's no war? As Danny desperately searches for answers to his friend's disappearance, he begins to wonder if he ever really knew Jack at all.

Yonder is a beautiful, contemplative novel that asks important questions about courage, heroism, war, and friendship. 

There you are, ten of my favorite books from 2022. Have you read any of them? Which titles did you enjoy reading most last year? I'd truly love to know. Leave me a comment on this post and I will return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

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