Joyfully Jay Best of 2022 badgeIn a farewell to 2022, I would like to talk a little about some of my favorite books from the past year. Looking back at the 75+ stories, nine of them really stand out: The Gemini Strand, Exodus 20:3, Shai and its sequel Elijah, Last Man Standing, Odder Still, Resurrection Men, Pure Silence, and Show Me Wonders. Just the covers of these remind me of how engrossing it was to read these stories.

 

The Gemini Strand by L.J. Hasbrouck was chock full of symbolism and ennui. I loved that there were strong romantic themes, yet there was an equally exciting thriller-like plot. Gemini Strand actually had me excited about the world the characters were inhabiting and how they would make their way through it. Bonus points for having a delightful enemies-to-lovers couple, too.

shai coverShai and Elijah by H.L. Night are a great set. Both books feature wildly atypical main characters and I ate that up. In the most basic sense, our MCs are the bad guys. The twisted crime lords wield power mercilessly to get what they want. Shai and Elijah are not “good” people, but they are principled—which is part of what helps really hold their stories together. These two characters also have an incredible relationship. It was a challenging pleasure to read. Their love, devotion, and obsession with one another pushed boundaries for me.

Pure Silence by K.L. Hiers is in a similar vein to Shai and Elijah. The concept of “good” and “evil” gets wholly reframed. The two main characters share an instant attraction and are perfect complements for one another romantically and sexually. At the same time, their personal relationship is fraught with different expectations from and for society. This was a rare case where I felt like the physical intimacy in the relationship came first and built a foundation for the emotional intimacy to form. And it stars a character who I think could represent a kind of neural divergence, along with a thoughtful representation of an age gap with an older character (Back aches! Creaky knees!).

last man standingLast Man Standing by Augustus Roth was a heartbreaking exploration of love and loss. The tone of the book had a wonderfully gritty quality and the pacing allowed for a lot of plausible deniability about whether evil was actually manifesting in the real world. But before too long, we learn that there are paranormal elements at play and that they helped the main character explore his life and question its meaning. I especially liked how something key appears early on but I didn’t find out how important it was until the big climax.

Resurrection Men by Steven Harper had me from the very title because I first heard about the practice from two different podcasts (Stuff You Missed in History Class and Sawbones). I was eager to see how Harper would treat this topic and loved the idea of our MCs were challenging the heteronormative relationship rules of the era. Arthur is exhuming corpses for his medical school so he and others can actually learn about the bodies they purportedly treat. I was impressed with Harper so skillfully touching on the fact that doctors have not always been highly esteemed by society. Jesse also bucks the role of first-born son in an aristocratic family by running away to become a grave digger then an undertaker. Yet he still struggles to maintain his independence when his commandeering mother finds him.

Among this small subset, three books are head and shoulders above the rest: Exodus 20:3, Odder Still, and Show me Wonders.

exodus 20:3 coverI loved the sexy intimacy of Exodus 20:3 by Freydis Moon. I also thoroughly enjoyed how the author incorporated biblically accurate beings. It seemed to me like the author was reclaiming a sense of spiritualness through this story. The MC also has a journey of redemption, coming out as transgender and living on his own terms with a mythical lover.

Odder Still by D.N. Bryn was a sweeping epic that just lingers fondly in my mind. At random times, I’ll imagine being home and relaxing with a new book and a cup of coffee and, almost invariably, that evokes the time when I was reading this story. The world building was incredible and the characters represented so many different elements, I just think this is a superb story with strong elements of inclusion that would let a lot of different readers feel represented in the best ways.

Show Me Wonders by Riley Nash is an absolute treasure to me. I loved the sympathetic portrayal of a man whom society has written off as evil simply because he’s got a criminal record. The story delved into themes of mental health, of people ignored by society, and true love. The author was bold in the structure of the story as well, making it span years while focusing on the initial meet-up between the two MCs, a lengthy exploration of what their life could be while they put their various real-world worries in a box marked “denial,” and a long-awaited reconciliation.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to read these stories and share them on the blog with all of you. I look forward to another year of challenging reads with lots of diverse characters and experiences (and a good dose of spice, of course).

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