It’s been a weird, transitional year filled with an exciting variety of stresses and challenges… but hot damn, did I have some excellent fiction to carry me through it. Below are my favourite books I read in 2022, from funky queer sci-fi to uplifting teen rom-coms.
As of next year, I’ll be moving across to Story Graph for all my book-cataloguing needs! Send me a friend request if you’re on there~
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
After Ning unwittingly brews the poisoned tea that kills her mother and injures her sister, she travels in secret to the imperial capital to seek retribution and a cure. The princess is hosting a contest to choose the court’s next shénnóng-shī, inviting those trained in the art of tea magic from all across the land. If Ning can win, she can save her sister, but she swiftly finds herself embroiled in a lush world of shadowy court intrigue, masked thieves and banished princes, and poisoned secrets that could upturn the tentative peace of the entire empire.
This C-drama-inspired fantasy was a lot of fun, drawing you into a vibrant world with an endless flow of sensory details. Its magic system has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, and relies less on combat and physical ability than it does clever use of ingredients and communication with nature. While sexism and class inequity plague Ning at every turn, the narrative itself is full of wonderful female characters who get by with a variety of skills, and share strong bonds (including, to my delight, a princess and her bodyguard/handmaiden/secret girlfriend). I’ll be looking forward to the second part of the Book of Tea duology when it arrives in paperback in January.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
Generations ago, the robot workforce on the moon Panga collectively gained sentience, and politely set down their tools and wandered off into the wilderness. Since then, Panga has been re-wilded, with its inhabitants striving for a more ethical and sustainable balance between technology and nature. No one’s seen a robot in living memory… until Sibling Dex, a travelling monk, impulsively journeys off the beaten track and into the woods, where they run into a very philosophical ‘bot named Mosscap.
This book is dedicated to “anyone who could use a break”, and yes, this duology came to me exactly when that was what I needed and was a wholly soothing experience. Psalm is a character-driven sci-fi that hinges on personal stakes and human moments. Sibling Dex’s quest for fulfilment—not quite sure what exactly they’re looking for, but determined to keep rushing ahead towards something—is relatable and sympathetic, and Mosscap makes a charming foil, bouncing off Dex in a variety of really fun and interesting conversations about personhood, history, and if we even need a “purpose” in the world. The setting feels lived-in and vivid, and I could honestly read about this monk and robot road-tripping through it forever.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
In an effort to quell the storms that ravage the coast, every year Mina’s village sends a young woman into the ocean to be the Sea God’s bride. To protect her brother’s sweetheart, Mina offers herself as this year’s sacrifice. She’s pulled down into an underwater city of spirits, demons, and gods… only to find the Sea God himself deep in an enchanted sleep, while the ethereal noble houses vie for power in his absence.
This is a super fun portal fantasy, drawing on Korean myth and folktales and bringing its world and characters to life through Mina’s emotive narration. The spirit city is such a cool and vibrant setting, the cast is interesting, and the central romance got me right in the heartstrings by the end.
The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta
When trainee baker Syd is dumped by a long-term girlfriend, Syd’s immediate coping mechanism is to bake a batch of brownies. But Syd’s heartache infuses the chocolatey treats, and everyone who eats them—including many patrons of the queer-owned community space and bakery where Syd works—quickly goes through their own horrendous heartbreak! Syd embarks on a quest to undo the delicious but disastrous damage, slowly figuring out that not everything in life, identity, and romance has a strict recipe.
This domestic fantasy about queer community, gender euphoria, and the power of baked goods, left me smiling and craving cake. You can read a full review here!
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter has just graduated with a doctorate in astronomy, and… suddenly finds herself adrift in a world of racist academics, unhappy career prospects, and diagnosable anxiety. When she travels to Las Vegas to celebrate becoming Dr. Porter, she accidentally acquires a Mrs. Porter when she drunkenly marries a beautiful, strange woman from New York. It’s a deviation from the Grand Plan she’s clung to for the past ten years, but maybe it’s just what Grace needs to start figuring out her new direction in life.
From that “married in Vegas” premise, Honey Girl sounds like it should be a zany rom-com, but the truth is this book is extremely grounded and down-to-earth. The prose is gorgeous and the story gentle, exploring Grace’s burnout, loneliness, and search for a sense of self with real care. It makes for a fascinating and lovely post-teenage coming-of-age story. (CW: systemic racism; mentions of self-harm; tense parental relationships)
The Honeys by Ryan La Sala
When Mars’ twin sister, Caroline, suddenly dies under horrifying circumstances, he suspects foul play. He suspects most of all that it has something to do with Aspen Summer Academy, the prestigious summer camp Caroline had been attending—the camp Mars had to leave behind after vicious bullying. No one believes Mars when he says so, but there’s something truly eerie about Aspen’s sun-drenched meadows and idyllic log cabins. What dark secrets lie behind the camp’s cheery exterior? What violence is being hidden and excused under the banner of tradition? And… what’s that buzzing sound?
The Honeys is an unhinged masterpiece of contemporary queer horror. Truly, there is nothing more terrifying than the traditions and expectations of the gender binary… except maybe bees. Oh, the bees. You can read a full review here!
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Chloe Green has survived her high school years fuelled by pride, spite, and the desperate desire to beat her academic rival: principal’s daughter, prom queen, church sweetheart, and all around insufferable overachiever Shara Wheeler. Shara throws a spanner in these plans when she kisses Chloe and then vanishes from town. As if the situation needed to be any more baffling, Chloe—alongside Shara’s boyfriend Smith and neighbour Rory—start finding cryptic notes written on pink stationary in Shara’s dainty handwriting.
A delectable mystery filled with great turns of phrase, loveable characters, and a wonderfully complicated look at queer coming-of-age in a rural, conservative landscape. You can read a full review here!
Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore
When they were children, a chance encounter led Lore and Bastián to each other and into a secret, magical world beneath the lake. Years later, that world under the water finds its way back to them: seagrass and coral sprouting in doctors’ offices, water swirling inside books, and colourful hybrid animals swimming by in mid-air. Lore and Bastián must reunite and work together to stop the lake’s magic submerging their lives… or perhaps, instead, to learn to live with its ebb and flow.
A gorgeous, deeply personal, magical realism-style fantasy, exploring the magic of finding someone who Gets You after spending so many years trying to drown the parts of yourself that make you different. (CW: bullying; cruel teachers; the anguish of trying to navigate the school system while neurodiverse)
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
After many years as an adventurer, Viv the orc hangs up her sword and sets up an eatery—trying to sell this strange, wonderful drink she discovered in the gnomish lands called “coffee”. But even with a lucky magical artefact hidden under the floor, Viv’s rough-and-tumble past is never far behind her. Can this old warrior truly reinvent herself with the power of roasted beans, frothed milk, and good friends?
A cosy coffee-infused fantasy to nicely complement the cosy tea-infused sci-fi I recommended higher up in this post! Legends & Lattes is a sweet-natured story about starting anew and building yourself a community, set in a vibrant and lived-in world that feels original while clearly drawing on a lot of Dungeons & Dragons shorthand. Viv is a wonderful protagonist, her shy slow-burn romance with her assistant is adorable, and I came away feeling refreshed and deeply craving a chocolate croissant.
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
An intergalactic refugee running a doughnut shop. A violinist who made a deal with the devil. A nerdy young musician on the run from an abusive household. The lives of these three women collide in unexpected ways, and an unexpected sense of family blooms against a backdrop of music halls, fusion restaurants, and sweeping California highways.
This is a sweet, weird little book that interlocks fantasy and sci-fi elements that, by all logic, shouldn’t really fit together, with such matter-of-fact charm that you’re pulled along for the ride. While Aoki doesn’t shy away from harrowing topics—particularly in the depictions of the trauma Katrina faces as a trans woman of colour—there is a kindness to this story, emphasising the power of slice-of-life moments like feeding ducks, sharing lunch, and, of course, losing yourself in music. Its three main characters are all great in their own ways, and the fierce, protective, complicated love between them is delightful. (CW: transphobic violence and hate speech; sexual abuse; survival sex work; racism)
The Monster of Her Age by Danielle Binks
Ellie Marsden’s grandmother is the (in)famous Lottie Lovinger, who made her screen debut as a cricket-bat-wielding, mini-shorts-wearing Final Girl in a ‘70s slasher movie and has been an undisputed scream queen ever since. Once, Ellie wanted to follow in her footsteps, but her one experience as a child actor left her traumatised—and estranged from Lottie, who let the on-set abuse happen. But when Lottie has a stroke, Ellie must return home and reckon with her complicated relationship with the Lovinger family legacy. Was Lottie a heroine, or a monster? Can a person be both at once?
Set in an alternate history where Australia had its own Golden Age of cinema right alongside Hollywood, this is a neat character drama about complicated relationships… and horror movies. You can read a full review here!
Ophelia After All by Raquel Marie
Having been “boy-crazy Ophelia” for so many years, our heroine has no idea what to do when she starts to develop one of her infamous, fluttery, heartfelt crushes on a girl. Ophelia feels isolated, terrified of changing the image her friends and family have of her just before they split up for college… and yet, on closer inspection, maybe Ophelia isn’t as alone in her queer identity crisis as she might have thought…
This is a really sweet figuring-yourself-out book, with plenty of fun banter and juicy Teen Drama to soak up alongside a heartfelt exploration of sexuality and identity—and the general terror of change that comes with the end of high school. You can read a full review here!
She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick
Molly and Alex could not be more different, yet when they end up at the same college party they realise they have something crucial in common: they’re both trying to impress the respective girl of their dreams, and they’re both falling flat on their face. Alex makes a proposal: she’ll use her charisma and wit to help Molly woo Cora, the girl Molly’s had a goofy unrequited crush on since high school, thus proving Alex’s good nature to her reluctant girlfriend, Natalie. Nothing about this plan can go wrong, and they definitely won’t fall in slow-burn, unlikely love with each other along the way.
A top-tier corny romantic comedy with some lovely character depth to give the shenanigans emotional weight. You can read a full review here!
Sugar by Carly Nugent
Apocalypse-obsessed sixteen-year-old Persephone Nedra blames herself for her father’s death, and is convinced that her diabetes diagnosis is cosmic punishment. The alternative is a universe that’s random and terrifying… so when Persephone finds a body in the bushland, she can’t accept that it’s just chance. She feels a connection to this stranger and her tragedy, and if Persephone can solve her mysterious death, maybe she can force the world to make sense.
This is one of those beautiful, angry books that sucks you into the protagonist’s head, where you get caught in the middle of their frustration, depression, and personality quirks without being able to look away for 350 pages. Sugar is a heavy read, but it’s a super, super interesting one, exploring a messy family and a cluster of messy characters but ending on a tentatively positive note. (CW: parental death; parental abandonment; domestic abuse; chronic illness; terminal illness; bushfires; “would it be so bad if the world ended right now?” suicide ideation)
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Rival operatives on either side of a time war—known only by their codenames, Blue and Red—begin leaving each other letters. First, as taunts. But, slowly, as they travel back and forth across millennia and alternate universes, hiding coded messages in increasingly imaginative ways, Red and Blue come to love each other. Is there any escape from this endless time loop of violence and treachery? Can these two star-crossed girlfriends find a way to win?
This beautifully-written, mind-bendy novella cracked my brain open and fried it like an egg. It takes a truly, ridiculously massive setpiece—all of space and time!—and narrows that cosmic vision down to a conversation between two people. Come for the bonkers-cool sci-fi concept, stay for the creative and deeply romantic prose.
Where You Left Us by Rhiannon Wilde
The Prince family has been notorious for generations, from rockstar dad Ian and his mental breakdown to great-aunt Sadie who “went mad” and mysteriously vanished in the ‘60s. Teenaged sisters Cinnamon and Scarlett have their own issues, and must confront the haphazard state of their family relationships when they all end up home for the summer holidays. When a storm cracks open a headstone in the family graveyard, questions left buried for half a century are suddenly brought back to the light. Is piecing together the Prince clan’s past the key to a more liveable future?
A queer gothic-ish mystery about the uncanny realities of returning to your childhood hometown… set on the Australian coast? This one was made for me! You can read a full review here!
What were your favourite novels from the past year? Does your list have anything in common with mine? Let me know in the comments—and here’s to a 2023 full of equally happy reading!
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