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My Favorite Books of 2022 (so far)

Cindy Burnett
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Carrie Soto is Back

Carrie Soto is Back is the latest book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and it's a winner!

In April and again in July, I highlighted my 10 favorite reads to date for 2022. As I sat down to evaluate for the third quarter, I could not get the list any smaller than 12 books at this stage so I am including the top 12 instead. 2022 has been a fabulous year for books so far, and it was incredibly hard to narrow it down to 12 titles. I do not think my list will change too much more for the last quarter, because it is a quieter publishing time this year.

Here are my top 12 reads for 2022 so far, in the order they published:

Love & Saffron by Kim Fay – I just loved this book so much. Written in epistolary format and set in the 1960s, this beautiful book tracks the friendship between two women, Imogen and Joan, as they get to know each other through letters. Imogen Fortier is a longtime columnist for a magazine and lives on Camano Island near Seattle. Joan, who is younger, is a new food columnist in Los Angeles. When Joan writes Imogen a fan letter and encloses a recipe and some saffron, the women begin a correspondence that develops into a wonderful relationship. Incorporating the history of the era, food, and personal tidbits, the women bond and become close friends as they correspond about their lives. This novel is filled to the brim with humor and heart and is a joy from start to finish. 

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys – I have been recommending this book to everyone I know. And in light of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia – the book’s premise is even more relevant. This historical thriller is set during the time period leading up to Romania’s 1989 revolution and the ousting of its charismatic but brutal leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. Insulated and living in constant fear, Romanians must survive under the oppressive regime that governs their country. There is little food, the electricity is randomly turned off and on, no outside media is allowed, and everyone worries about who they can trust and who they cannot, even family members are suspect. Sepetys vividly depicts life there during this time period, a period many will be unfamiliar with, and how one man managed to fool the world for far too long. I have not stopped thinking about this book since I finished it, and it will definitely be one of my top reads of the year; it is truly stunning.

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E Smith – This is another fabulous read. I love books about musicians and the setting of an Alaskan cruise made this a must read for me. Following a public breakdown brought on by the sudden death of her mother, indie musician Greta James agrees to accompany her father on a cruise to Alaska. They have always had a tense relationship, and while she was alive, Greta’s mother, her biggest fan, had helped Greta and her father Conrad communicate with each other. With her gone, the pair struggles to bridge the divide between them especially in the face of their shared grief. Both hope the cruise to Alaska will help them learn to understand each other. In addition to trying to repair her relationship with her father, Greta is working on her sophomore album, dealing with fans on the cruise ship, re-evaluating her current relationship, and trying to recover from her public meltdown. This beautiful novel is a story about repairing relationships, finding your joy, and living life to the fullest. I absolutely loved this one and highly, highly recommend it.

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr – After fledgling reporter Jules Roth talks her way into a job with Dan Mansfield, Chicago’s preeminent investigative reporter, he assigns her to a top-secret story, locating “Woman on Fire,” a very valuable painting stolen by the Nazis during World War II. But Jules doesn’t have much time because the man Dan is helping find the painting is dying. In Europe, heiress and art collector Margaux de Laurent hunts for the same painting and will stop at nothing to find it. As Jules gets drawn into the dangerous and seductive art world of the uber-wealthy, she uncovers secrets and betrayals while becoming intrigued with the painting at the center of the drama. There are some fabulous twists and turns combined with a stellar plot and an intriguing cast of characters. This thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it.

The White Girl by Tony Birch – The White Girl is set in the 1960s Australian town of Deane, a fictional town representative of every small town in Australia. Odette Brown and her fair-skinned granddaughter Sissy live in the Aboriginal section of the town, Quarrytown, and are subject to the restrictions placed on them by the welfare authorities. When a new policeman arrives, Odette realizes that Sissy is in danger of being taken from her with absolutely no recourse on Odette’s part because during this time period Aboriginal people could not be Australian citizens nor make basic decisions for themselves such as when and where to travel or what job they will hold. Birch vividly describes what it was like to live as an Aboriginal person then and the countless hardships they endured while also weaving in a beautiful tale of family and the lengths people will go to in order to protect each other. I loved Odette, and her strength and perseverance against all odds will stay with me for a very long time. 

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner – Set in 1950s London, Bloomsbury Books, a bookstore that sells new and rare books and that has existed for over a century, is run by men and guided by the general manager’s 51 rules. But following World War II, Vivien, Grace and Evie, three strong women working at the store, strive to modernize the store’s ways and chart their own paths in a male-dominated world. Interacting with literary greats such as Daphne de Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Peggy Guggenheim and more, these three women push the boundaries of the early 1950s. I loved everything about this one from the literary setting to the characters to the book’s resolution.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley – Magazine columnist Iona Iverson rides the train to and from work every day, seeing the same people to whom she has privately given nicknames such as Mr. Too-Good-To-Be-True and Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader. None of the commuters ever speak to one another until the day when one of them chokes on food and is saved by another rider. This incident makes Iona realize that she wants to learn more about her fellow riders and she begins to develop relationships with them as she rides, inserting herself into their issues, helping solve their problems and even becoming friends with some of them. I loved the characters and the way they develop, interact, and come together, the stellar writing, the story line and the ending. Infused with heart and humor, this book demonstrates the importance of community and the ability of relationships to change people's lives while also serving as a reminder that people should not be judged by their appearance. I highly recommend this gem of a book and was so sad when it ended.

The Local by Joey Hartstone – When author Joey Hartstone learned that the small East Texas town of Marshall is improbably one of the most popular places in the United States to argue patent cases, he knew he needed to set a legal thriller there. The Local follows attorney James Euchre who serves as local counsel to the patent attorneys who file hundreds of case a year in Marshall. When Amir Zawar, one of his patent clients, ends up charged with the murder of the local judge, the client demands that Euchre defend him. With the help of a former prosecutor, he agrees to defend Zawar and gets dragged into the world of criminal defense. This unique and fast-paced legal thriller kept me on the edge of my seat, and I particularly loved the patent law aspects of the story. I had no idea that Marshall, Texas was such a hotbed of patent law and loved learning about that and how it impacts both the town and the surrounding area.

Any Other Family by Eleanor Brown – This book is a beautiful reflection on the concept of family. Three sets of parents are tied to each other through the biological siblings that they each adopt after the death of the children’s grandmother. In an effort to ensure that the siblings remain close, the parents agree to create their own “family” for these kids, sharing Sunday dinners, celebrating birthdays and holidays together, and even taking a joint vacation. The three adoptive mothers are very different from each other, and the book focuses on each of them, their approach to motherhood and how they interact with each other and work to keep their fragile family bonds intact. While the group is on their shared vacation, the children’s birth mother surprises them with the news that she is pregnant again and is wanting help finding a family to adopt the latest baby, and this bombshell threatens to destroy what the group has created. At times, I identified with each of the three adoptive mothers and also felt for each of them. The women all want to do what is best for the children as well as trying to help them maintain relationships with each other. This will be one of my top reads of the year,  and I have not stopped thinking about it since I finished it.

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister – As the book opens, Jen witnesses her 18-year-old son Todd murdering a complete stranger in the middle of the night right in front of their house. Devastated that her son, with whom she is close, has taken someone’s life, Jen cries herself to sleep on her sofa. The following morning, Jen wakes up anxious to begin understanding why her son committed this horrific crime but instead finds herself not on the morning after the crime, but the morning before it happened. Each night she goes to sleep, she wakes up further back in time. Jen begins to realize that each day she lands on is teaching her something about the events that lead up to her son’s actions as she continues to search for why this all occurred and more importantly search for how to stop it from happening. Wrong Place Wrong Time is an intelligent and compulsive read that kept me turning the pages through all sorts of twists and turns and is the best thriller that I have read in a long time. 

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Carrie Soto is Back starts a little slowly, but picks up pretty quickly. Carrie Soto is one of those characters that takes a little while to warm up to, but once I did I was rooting for her 100 percent. She is on a mission to remain the best tennis player in the world and won’t let anything get in her way. However, over time she does begin to see what the single-minded cost her, and I loved how she matured as well as the story progressed. The secondary characters are well developed, and the few people she lets in to her life really make an impact on her. One thing that really resonated with me was the difference in the way Carrie was treated and viewed as a female athlete versus how the male tennis players were viewed and discussed. Characteristics that are acceptable or even welcomed in men are not allowed in women and instead are criticized or mocked. Reid weaves in both news articles and transcripts of sports commentators to demonstrate this in the book which worked very effectively. While I am a huge fan of Daisy Jones and the Six, Carrie Soto is Back is now firmly tied with Daisy for my favorite of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novels.

How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz – Written in a unique format across 12 job counseling sessions, the book is a quick but very compelling read. Cara Romero, a woman in her 50s who recently lost her job at a factory manufacturing lamps, narrates her story as she visits with a job counselor each week in order to find a job or qualify for more benefits. Interspersed among the counseling sessions are various forms and documents from her life – her rent application, job applications, and eventually her application for citizenship. Cara is tough, full of heart, and at times absolutely hilarious – she’s one of the best fictional characters that I have encountered in a long while. And the format works so well for telling Cara’s life story. I highly recommend this one -  it is the perfect combination of humor, family drama, a strong setting (Washington Heights), and characters you root for even as they sometimes make poor decisions.

I hope you enjoyed reviewing my list, and I would love to hear what your favorites for the year are so far - feel free to drop them in the comments.

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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