I started 2022 off strong with 2 five-star reads and read several more review copies than I normally do in most months. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!
Total books read: 12
ARCs/Review copies: 4
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (5 stars) – Consisting of 5 short stories and the titular novella, My Monticello is written in a way that’s incisive and impactful. Many of the stories center around themes of racism and use uncommon voices (second person, first person collective) to convey their messages. Although all 5 of the short stories were excellent, my favorite part of this collection was its novella, which is, hands, down, the best novella I have ever read. Set in the near future after climate disasters have disrupted the central government and infrastructure, a group of white supremacists drives members of a Virginia community out of their homes. They’re then forced to seek refuge in the only safe place they can find–Monticello. While there, they deal with both the house’s racist history and the threats that they are facing in the present; it’s devastating and so well-crafted. I’ve been recommending this book like crazy, and I think it’s one that everyone should read.
Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (5 stars) – This is only the third book I’ve read in 2022, and the first romance, but I don’t see how it won’t be my favorite romance of the year.
Love & Other Disasters is incredibly sweet, well-written, inclusive, and big-hearted, and it made me cry several times (to clarify, these were happy tears due to how absurdly cute it is). It’s a contemporary romance following two contestants on a Top Chef-esque reality show who, after an awkward first meeting, develop a friendship and begin to fall for each other. Our protagonists are at very different places in their lives: Dahlia is recently divorced and struggling with her direction in life and self-confidence, and plans to use the prize money to help pay off her student loan debts; London, the show’s first openly non-binary contestant, is happy with their life and career in Nashville, but dreams of using the prize money to start a charity for LGBTQIA+ youth. Dahlia is outgoing and quirky, whereas London exudes quiet confidence, and their opposite personalities complement one another from the start.
I really can’t overstate how much I loved this one. Dahlia and London have a very sweet and supportive foundation, but also fantastic chemistry. Since I love Top Chef, I liked the cooking show premise, but it never overshadows the development of their relationship; I’d say that it takes up exactly the right amount of the story. I don’t know the last time I read a romance where I felt that the characters fit together so well on both an emotional and a romantic level, and where I loved both protagonists and their perspectives equally. More than anything else, this book just made me really, really happy to read, and I’ll be recommending it to everyone all year.
I received a free copy of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (4 stars) – An extremely informative and well-researched look at economic inequality and its roots in racism that discusses how racist policies negatively impact not only Black Americans, but all of society. I felt like I learned so much while reading this book; I don’t have much background knowledge in economics, so there was a bit of a learning curve while reading this book, but it’s still accessible.
Electric Idol by Katee Robert (4 stars) – I think I liked the second book in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series even more than the first. It’s a marriage of convenience story between Eros, who for years has been doing the dirty work to keep his mother, Aphrodite, in power, and Psyche, a strategic and good-hearted daughter of Aphrodite’s mother Demeter. When Aphrodite asks Eros to kill Psyche, he finds himself drawn to her and marries her for her protection instead. I really liked the way their romance developed quickly from fake to genuine, and this book seems to also set up several possible subsequent romances. As a Greek mythology and romance fan, these books are a lot of fun; I’ve seen critiques saying that they stray too far from the original stories, but that’s very intentional–they’re inspired by the gods’ characters and power struggles rather than direct retellings.
Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman (4 stars) – One of my 2022 reading goals is to pick up more historicals (fiction, fantasy, and romance alike) and I’m glad to have started off with a book that I loved.
Out Front the Following Sea’s protagonist Ruth is a smart, indomitable survivor and a feminist in a time where it wasn’t safe for women to be anything close to one. The story begins with her trapped in a small New England town that considers her a witch and blames her for the deaths of her parents, and Ruth’s dreams of escape manifest in a twisted sense when she’s forced to flee for her life. Ruth’s saga, and her quest for not only survival but to live without having her intelligence and ambitions quashed, is a twisted path full of different types of danger and occasional unexpected friendship. There’s also a very human love story at the center of the narrative between Ruth and her childhood best friend, half-French sailor Owen, although rising tensions between the English and French threaten to divide them more than societal norms already do. The incredible historical details of life in late-1600s New England keep the story rooted in a deep sense of place, even as its themes still resonate in today’s society. I’d definitely recommend this one; it’s fast-paced and full of both action and emotion, and I really enjoyed it despite not being an avid historical fiction reader.
I received an ARC of Out Front the Following Sea from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this third installment in Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars series, which is centered around a group of friends living in Seattle. Count Your Lucky Stars is an estranged childhood best friends-to-lovers romance between recently divorced Olivia, who is struggling with anxiety and and her tendencies to prioritize others’ needs over her own, and prickly Margot, who after seeing her best friends fall in love is starting to yearn for her own deeper romantic connection.
As teenagers, Margot and Olivia found their friendship deepening into a brief romantic connection, which quickly ended due to miscommunication and lead to their separation for many years. They reunite as twentysomethings when Olivia becomes the wedding planner for Margot’s best friend’s wedding, and find that their chemistry and love for each other is still alive and well. I’m not normally the biggest fan of second chance romance, but I found Margot and Olivia’s connection really beautiful and believable, and I liked how they encouraged and brought out the best in each other by continually advocating for one another. I also liked the reappearance of Darcy and Elle, one of my favorite fictional couples, from the first book in Bellefleur’s series. It’s a very sweet story about friendship and love, and I’d recommend it to any contemporary romance reader.
I received an eARC of Count Your Lucky Stars from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire (4 stars) – I liked this installment in the Wayward Children series much better than the previous one; we learn about the second, sinister rival school to Eleanor West’s, where the previous books are based around, and a new, large-scale, real-world conflict is introduced. It isn’t my favorite book in the series, but I read it in one setting and very much enjoyed the read.
Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this nonfiction audiobook focused on how to write and be creative during difficult times. It’s read by the author, who I’ve been following since she ran the science and science fiction site io9 and who I’ve been lucky enough to see speak at BookCon, and has a lot of really solid writing advice as well as inspiration.
Forged in Fire by Juliette Cross (3.5 stars) – Forged in Fire is the first book in a UF/PNR trilogy that was re-released this month and originally published in 2015. I’m a huge fan of Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, so I was excited to be able to check out one of her earlier works.
Set in New Orleans, Forged in Fire follows Gen, a college student who’s thrown into an underworld of demons and demon hunters when she discovers that she’s a Vessel, meaning that she has access to a variety of magical powers that make her a target for powerful demons looking to use her for evil. Helping to train and protect her is Jude, a powerful demon hunter with a mysterious past, and who Gen immediately finds herself falling for.
I didn’t love this book quite as much as Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, but I really loved Gen as a main character. She’s strong yet flawed, and you can’t help but root for her. She’s determined to hang on to some form of normalcy while being thrust into a world that she doesn’t understand, and she keeps the story grounded through its introduction of more and more otherworldly elements. I also liked the concept of the Vessel and the worldbuilding of a demonic underworld hiding in plain sight.
What I didn’t love quite as much, unfortunately, was the romance between Gen and Jude, which developed a bit too quickly for my taste, and felt too unbalanced in terms of age and experience level. I’d also caution readers that there are several scenes of sexual assault in this book (perpetrated by the villains), which I did at times find difficult to read.
I received an eARC of Forged in Fire from the author in exchange for an honest review.
A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw (3.5 stars) – I’m very hit or miss with mysteries, and I was hoping that this book, with its mild infusion of fantasy, would hit the sweet spot for me. Instead, it was more of an up and down reading experience; I was really interested in the first viewpoint character, a private investigator with the power to see a person’s past by holding an object they interacted with, who was searching for a missing author of disturbing children’s books. Unfortunately, the middle of the book, where we spend time in the forest cult where we believe the author to have disappeared, really dragged, and the three new viewpoint characters didn’t have very interesting personalities. The ending of the book did add more interest, and my investment in finding out the book’s twist kept me reading rather than DNF-ing, but I’m not sure that I’d recommend this one.
Always Only Yours by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – I read my first Chloe Liese contemporary romance at the end of 2021, and decided that I wanted to pick up more from her. I generally steer clear of sports romances, but for some reason (probably because I’m from Buffalo), hockey tends to be a bit of an exception, so I enjoyed most of this romance between a prickly social media manager and a cinnamon roll hockey player. It did get a bit too sweet for me at times, as did my previous Chloe Liese read, but I do think I’ll try her again in the future.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (3 stars) – My first read of January was, unfortunately, my most disappointing of the year so far. I really thought I’d love this historical fantasy romance, but despite the great premise, I found that the characters and the plot both fell very flat for me. I needed more dimension in the characterization and more intrigue in the plot; I’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this book, and I wish that mine was one of them.