Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Boswellians' Top 5 Books of 2022 - Part Five

A new day in December, a new set of top 5 picks from your favorite Boswellians. Let's go!

Rachel Copeland brings the romance with her book club and her book picks. Here are her favorites of the year.

#1 Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood. Rachel writes: "Purple-haired scientist Bee K√∂nigswasser's big opportunity at NASA comes with one problem in the form of her project's co-lead, the man who hates her the most: Levi Ward. But when she confronts him about missing supplies and lack of email access, suddenly Levi is... nice? Helpful? Supportive? Surely this is some sort of bizarro world where Levi never hated Bee to begin with. I just need to know… how does Ali Hazelwood do it? By the end of the first page, I knew Love on the Brain would be one of my favorite reads of the year. Every page is a delight, every character is wonderful - you just have to read this for yourself."

#2 Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell. Rachel writes: "Tennal Halkana can't escape the truth of his existence no matter where he runs, who he sleeps with, or how many drugs he takes - he's a mind reader, the result of illegal neuromodification experiments. Out of options, he's conscripted into the military, forced to sync with Surit Yeni, an architect capable of controlling a mind as wild and chaotic as Tennal's. Yet Surit won't sync an unwilling reader, so they fake the sync and plan Tennal's escape. What follows is a fight they never anticipated - for autonomy, for justice, and for each other. Maxwell deepens the worldbuilding established in Winter's Orbit with a focus on the mysterious alien remnants that seem to have endless horrifying possibilities. I don't know how it's possible in a story that engages in difficult topics such as coercion and mental health issues, but Ocean's Echo left me with a distinctly warm feeling. Can one feel hugged by a space opera? Asking for a friend."

#3 Making its third appearance on the top 5 blogs, it's Alexandra Rowland's A Taste of Gold and Iron. Here's Rachel's take on this one: "Following an altercation with the body-father of his sister's newborn child, Prince Kadou must prove his loyalty to his sister, the sultan, and figure out who is behind the counterfeit currency plot that could ruin their country of Arasht. Crippled with anxiety, Kadou finds himself stuck with a terse new bodyguard, Evemer, who doesn't seem to like Kadou all that much. After a series of incidents in which Kadou improbably proves himself more canny, dutiful, and capable than Evemer thought possible, an undying loyalty and trust grows between them - and evolves into something more. In every way, this is the romance I've been waiting for. The slow build between Kadou and Evemer was so well done that I often flipped back to reread passages just for fun. Also, every (non-evil) character in this book is iconic, and Rowland had me cackling, blushing, and screaming at multiple points. Rowland's worldbuilding encompasses not only the touch-taste of precious metals that drives the plot, but also a fully realized system of genders, pronouns, orientations, even degrees of paternity. I finished this work wanting - maybe needing - to revisit it immediately to recapture the feeling of pure joy that infuses every page."

#4 The Bodyguard by Katherine Center. Rachel writes: "Hannah looks like an ordinary young woman, which is a great advantage in her profession as a bodyguard. Dumped by her boyfriend/coworker the day after her mother's funeral, she's determined stay professional and prove herself to her boss - but then she gets assigned to Jack Stapleton. You know him, of course - twice voted sexiest man alive, blockbuster movie actor, and recently the subject of a death threat or two. With his mother's health in question, Hannah has no choice but to pretend to be Jack's girlfriend in order both keep him safe and not worry his family. Now she just has to do her job... and guard her heart. What a thoroughly charming book this is! Hannah's matter-of-fact voice is so funny that I could listen to her talk about security and guns all day, and Jack is so wonderfully quirky (always misses when throwing away trash, does tricks on horseback) that I couldn't help but fall for him along with Hannah. Center's writing style is super charming and adorably weird (there's a character named Dog House!); I was laughing the whole time."

#5 The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna. Rachel says: "Mika Moon is lonely; it's the reality of being a modern witch. When she's invited to a mysterious place called Nowhere House to tutor three young witches, she should refuse, but she doesn't. In a house run by a housekeeper, a groundskeeper and his retired actor husband, and a grumpy (and gorgeous) librarian for an absentee archeologist who fosters the girls, Mika is the only person who can help the girls control their magic. Now all Mika has to do is keep the girls' feet on the ground (literally!) and her heart guarded from something she shouldn't want - to love and be loved. Finally, a witch book that really nails it! The magic in this book is that perfect balance of wicca-ish and Sabrina the Teenage Witch silliness, but the real winner is the human element of found family. Mandanna's writing is relentlessly charming - mark me down as devotee!"

Next it's Conrad Silverberg, who takes us all over the world with his selections.

#1 Musical Revolutions: How the Sounds of the Western World Changed by Stuart Isacoff. Conrad says: "If you are able to get past its fixation on the West, you will find this a highly informative joyride through the twists, turns, and sudden surges of innovation that have characterized the evolution of 2000 years of Western music. Isacoff's voice is a steady and confident guide, and his observations are consistently perceptive and eye-opening. He brings the music to life on the page. No easy feat. Musical Revolutions is a wonderful accomplishment that will be thoroughly enjoyed and revisited for years to come."

#2 & #3 - The Passenger and Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy. Seems like these should be gathered together, since they have been in this box set

Of The Passenger, Conrad writes: "It has been sixteen years since Cormac McCarthy's last novel was published, and for some of us, that is just a ridiculously long time to go without. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. This is his best book since Blood Merridian (and that is saying an awful lot!). Every page is filled with the rich, taut, and precise writing for which he is known. Gem after gem of the most exquisite sentences you could ever hope to read. The Passenger is filled with just the kind of sociopathic characters, fixated on philosophy, theology, and their astonishing moral ambiguity, that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. This is vintage McCarthy, perhaps a bit less bloody than his previous books, but shot through with the soaring, almost biblical, flights of storytelling that defines his best work. Join the legions who consider him to be America's finest living novelist."

Conrad's Stella Maris write-up includes footnotes, which I appreciate. Here it is: "Stella Maris is the second book, a coda if you will, of Cormac McCarthy's duology* that began with The Passenger. From what I had heard, I was expecting a kind of Rashomon**-like experience with different characters recasting themselves in the lead role, shoehorning themselves into the center of events, whose perspectives contradict and utterly supersede those of all others. But, that's not quite it. More like McCarthy was so enthralled with the backstory of one of The Passenger's major characters (if, for the most part, an off-stage character - a sort of Fifth Business***), he couldn't help but bring them to the fore and flesh out their story. We can only be grateful that he did. We come to know one of the most richly layered, intricately developed, deeply flawed yet completely compelling characters you'd ever hope to meet in fiction. The sister of The Passenger's protagonist is very much the lynchpin that ties everything together, and so maybe Fifth Business after all.

*Like a trilogy, but with two books - I suppose that's better than calling it a bi-ology.
**The book of short stories by the Japanese master Ryuno Akutagwa, perhaps better known from the 1950 film adaptation by the great Akira Kurasawa.
***The role in a play or opera that is neither hero nor heroine, villain nor confidante, but is absolutely essential to bringing about the story's denouement - like some doddering old nurse who absentmindedly switched two babies at birth only to reveal all at the end."

#4 Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science by James Poskett. Conrad says: "This is decidedly not overly focused on the West. Science has its origins from all over the world, and this book helps bring a refreshingly global perspective to the history of how we have come to know what we know. The growth of science has always been predicated on the free exchange of ideas. We forget that many of the great European scientists throughout the ages explicitly quoted from and were inspired by earlier writings from China, Persia, Egypt, India, and Arabia. This is as true today as it has ever been."

#5 Atlas of Forgotten Places: Journey to Abandoned Destinations from Around the Globe by Travis Elborough. Conrad says: "All over the world, the landscape is dotted with ghostly enigmas: places formerly the homes and monuments of their inhabitants but now deserted, abandoned to slowly crumble into dust. These are sometimes-otherworldly sites, forsaken for a variety of reasons, and often surreally appealing in their ruin. Here's your chance to decipher their mysteries and relearn their secrets. Maybe they'll inspire your next vacation!"

And we conclude today's top five-ificiations with Jenny Chou who offers up a delightfully dreamy set of books.

#1 The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik. Jenny writes: "If you are anything like me, the last line of Naomi Novik’s book The Last Graduate destroyed you in that astonishing way that only the best fiction can. After declaring his love, Orion shoved El out of the graduation hall and stayed to fight the maw-mouth on his own. Since no one survives a maw-mouth attack (except El herself), she needs to get back into the Scholomance and save the life of that “bag of jumbled screws,” Orion Lake, and not for the first time; she’s keeping score. While this quest propels the story forward at a don’t-bother-me-I’m-reading pace, Novik’s social justice theme brings the real depth to this brilliant conclusion to the Scholomance series. When El discovers the hideous secret that allowed the enclaves to create their structure of safety and advantages, Novik forces readers to contemplate the damage inflicted on the weakest among us. The emotional journey taken by El, Orion, and their many enemies and few friends made for a series I’m sorry to see the end of, but I couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling conclusion."

#2 See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon. This one gets us into Jenny's recent love of trim travel books that go beyond the old sci-fi tropes. Jenny writes: "Signing up for physics her freshman year of college was a mistake that becomes clear the moment Barrett sits down next to the unbearably annoying Miles, a know-it-all who puts her on the spot in front of the class and the professor for absolutely no reason. She’s never seen Miles before in her life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know each other. It doesn’t take long for Barrett to figure out she’s become stuck in a time loop of endless Wednesday the 21st of Septembers. And caught there with her? Ugh. Miles. What ensues is hilarious and very nearly broke my heart (not unexpected for a Rachel Lynn Solomon novel). Writing a book set almost entirely in just one day is challenging, but Solomon’s creativity makes for a real page turner. Barrett’s combination of outspoken and insecure land her in trouble with every repeat, while Miles pretty much has to be dragged out of the physics library, where he’s determined to find the scientific solution to reaching Thursday, September 22nd. Barrett’s sense of adventure doesn’t mesh with Miles’s cautious personality, so watching the two learn to understand each other makes for a charming read. I’m not giving anything away to tell you that my favorite enemies-to-lovers trope is well played here, but the path to Thursday, September 22nd leads through an unexpected and epic twist that fans of YA romance won’t want to miss."

#3 This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. Another time travelling and heartstring-tugging tale. Jenny says: "2022 is shaping up to be an excellent year for time travel novels. Literally one super-star read after another, and as I write this, it's only February. In This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub's take on the time-travel twist, we don’t need to understand the science behind main character Alice’s journeys to her past, just her motivations for going back to age sixteen - first accidentally and then on purpose. At the start of the book, she’s forty, and it’s apparent that Alice is not living her best life. Her father, the most important person in her life, is dying, and everyone else is caught up in the chaos of their own life or is just dull background noise in Alice’s. So, when the opportunity arises, Alice tries to rearrange her present-day life over and over again from the springboard of her sixteenth birthday. Fixing certain problems often leads to bigger problems and lots of laughs for the reader, but the heartbeat of the novel is Alice’s relationship with her dad. Her longing to somehow adjust his path by changing her actions gives This Time Tomorrow a sense of poignancy and tenderness. Trust me, you’re going to fall in love with Alice and the people who stumble in and out of her life over the course of this absolutely delightful book."

#4 Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack. In this historical fantasy novel, Ziva will do anything to save her twin brother Pesah from his illness, even if it means down the Angel of Death himself. This one earned four (four!) starred reviews, including this from PW: "Pasternack shows how Ziva’s love of justice drives her, while depicting a world in which spirits are manifest, healers come in many forms, and a bold girl can literally bargain with the Angel of Death. Tenderly rendering Ziva’s feelings of responsibility - including around Pesah’s physical care and amputating his infected fingers and toes - Pasternack imagines a rich, omen-filled journey that powerfully shows love and its limits."

#5 Book of Night by Holly Black. Jenny writes: "If you, like me, are waiting not-so-patiently for Leigh Bardugo to write the sequel to her adult novel, The Ninth House, here’s something to keep you busy in the meantime. Holly Black’s first foray into writing for grown-ups is an urban fantasy with a stunning mix of magic, horror, heists, and the perfect amount of impossible romance. There is nothing I love better than an author who creates a believable twist on magic, and Black’s world building is outstanding. Every page feels overcast and dark, and no wonder; human shadows are infused with power to be sold or traded and even killed for. Additionally, her characters are nuanced and sharply portrayed. Main character Charlie tries to keep a low-profile as a bartender, hiding from her past as a thief, but as in all the best novels, that past just won’t leave her alone. Her sister and seemingly perfectly nice boyfriend struck me as not to be trusted from the beginning. Were my instincts right? Find out for yourself on May 3rd! But here’s a warning for you, clear your schedule before you turn to page one, because you won’t put Book of Night down until you reach the gasp-out-loud last page."

Only one more top 5 post to go - you can hardly wait, right? Until tomorrow, read on, dear readers.

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