Jen's Top 10 Reads of 2022

Jen’s Top 10 Reads of 2022

Keeping with traditions, we will post our separate top 10 reads of 2022 lists throughout January. Well, it might be top 5 in some cases, but all 4 of us had books we’d like to shout about and that’s what’s important.

Our only rule was that any book on these lists has to be read during 2022, regardless of when they were published and by whom. And we had to love them, obviously. Maybe. I mean, when you keep shouting at the author in private for things they did, it’s surely a sign of love, right? Even if you call said author names… *ahem*

Jen's Picks

I didn’t get as much reading in this year, as I normally do and I failed miserably at my Goodreads goal again – only reading 34 of my goal of 50. I even lowered the darn thing to a number closer to what I have been reading in the last couple of years and that didn’t help at all.

Anyway, I did read some incredible books that have stuck with me over the course of the year. The fact that I was able to pick ten, and still have trouble choosing that tenth between a couple others, says a lot about the little gems I found this year.

So enough of my yacking – let’s get this show on the road!

Until The Last by Mike Shackle

There is a reason Mike Shackle has been the top of my list for the last few years, I’d have to say he is probably one of the most consistent authors, at balancing fast-paced action and great characters, wrapped in a story you just can’t put down. Until the Last doesn’t pull any punches while hitting those fun-as-hell buttons, delivering a finale that is a worthy-end to the series, and of its place, at the top of my list. My advice is to jump on this series now!

Until the Last by Mike Shackle

THE TIME HAS COME.
SEKINOWARI – THE LAST WAR – HAS ARRIVED.

The breakneck conclusion to the trilogy that started with We Are the Dead. To beat the ultimate evil, sometimes the price is more than you can pay . . .

The war with the Egril has changed Tinnstra forever. A coward no more, she’ll go to any length to defeat every last one of her enemies.

Zorique has grown into her powers. It’s time for her to lead her army into Jia and spearhead the fight for her homeland.

But at what cost? The Egril emperor Raaku – the Son of Kage himself – is waiting for them. And he intends to destroy Zorique, Tinnstra and all their allies.

They will need to put everything on the line if Jia hopes to see the dawn.

“But it’s not all darkness and death. What makes this series so special, are the moments that balance those out. The ones that showcase our humanity – the friendships, love, forgiveness and even the occasional laughs (because it can’t be all doom and gloom). More importantly, though, hiding underneath all those complicated emotions that make us who we are, and fueling that will to survive… there is hope. What a stunningly amazing series this was.”

Dim Stars by Brian P. Rubin

Dim Stars charmed me. I talked about it to everyone in my life for months trying to make them read it…and how did I get saddled with so many real-life friends that don’t read anyway?

Dim Stars was the most fun I’ve had with a book in a long while. It is filled with zany characters and some downright hilarious moments, but the story is all heart. Go read this today, I smiled through the whole thing and BTW I’m still waiting for that POP collectible of Squix.

Dim Stars by Brian P. Rubin

Kenzie Washington, fourteen-year-old girl genius, signs up for a two-week tour as a cadet on the spaceship of her idol, Captain Dash Drake. Too bad Dash, who once saved the galaxy from the evil Forgers, is a broke loser and much less than meets the eye.

But when an intergalactic evil appears and launches an attack, Dash, Kenzie, and the ship’s crew escape, making them the next target. On the run and low on gas, Dash and Kenzie encounter cannibal space-pirates, catastrophic equipment failure, and a cyborg who’s kind of a jerk.

Kenzie is determined to discover the bad guys’ secret plan. But for her to succeed, Dash needs to keep his brilliant, annoying cadet from getting killed …which is a lot harder than it sounds.

“Do you ever want to clap at the end of the story because you had such a great experience reading it? I do. That’s how I felt after reading Dim Stars. We all need a book like that- a story where we can cheer when the good guys win, laugh at their exploits, and feel sad when the squid gets put in a jar.

Sometimes life just needs a fun book to get us through the daily nonsense.”

Falling Through Stars by Staci Olsen

Falling Through Stars was a little outside of my normal reading. It’s a low fantasy journey through one woman’s struggles to find a place in her clan and life after a sledding accident causes disturbing changes – visions and prophecies that mark her as an outcast to the very superstitious people of her clan.

The story is quiet and comforting and understated. The strength of the story relies on Ts’ellbah and what a character she is – I laughed, I cried and rooted for her in her triumphs. She was incredible. Don’t miss this highly underrated story.

Falling Through Stars by Staci Olsen

After crashing her dogsled into the frozen river, Ts’ellbah fears something is wrong, something deeper than the inexplicable new scar over her heart. She feels like a stranger in her own skin and struggles to remember her closest friends and family. At first, her clan is relieved that she survived the accident. But on a night when red spirit lights stain the sky like blood, Ts’ellbah suffers her first violent seizure and sees a vision in which a revered elder encounters a mythical monster and dies. When her announcement of the elder’s death proves correct, many are convinced something evil possessed her in the dark river. They believe she killed the old man and want to cast her out. Before they do, Ts’ellbah must persuade her people that their ancient enemies have indeed returned, that they are looking for something, and they’ll destroy the entire clan to find it.

“I felt Ts’ellbah’s frustration when no one would believe her and her triumphs when they did. I felt her hurt from any snub from the clan, or friends, and her hopes for Tikonee, to return her affection. And my heart broke to pieces and I cried my eyes out, at her losses. What a great character and what a beautiful story this was. I hope more people find and experience Falling Through Stars because it deserves to be found.”

Dyer Street Punk Witches by Phil Williams

You can’t go wrong with punk witches apparently, because both Timy and I have this one on our top ten list. The truth is, Phil just knows how to write great women characters.

This book ticked a lot of boxes for me, with its moody atmosphere, smaller-focused setting/story, and a prickly lead that is having to confront a past she thought she put behind her, it’s a solid read all-around.

Dyer Street Punk Witches by Phil Williams

Kit hung up her brass knuckles, but the shadows of her past always lingered. Now they’re back to claim her.

Kit “Fadulous” Hamley, magazine editor, activist and former punk rocker, is a well-known loudmouth in St Alphege’s. She works tirelessly to hold local authorities to account. Some say she’s making up for her criminal youth. Others spread rumours of witchcraft. Only a handful of people know how dark her secrets really are.

When an old friend warns Kit that a former rival has resurfaced, those secrets start to resurface. People have gone missing, with body parts and strange symbols left behind, and someone is stalking Kit. The gang she abandoned are scared stiff and her magic-wielding bandmates are long gone. Kit herself is a target, and if she can’t unravel exactly how this new feud connects with her past mistakes, it could kill her.

Decades older, a little wiser, and contrary as ever, Kit’s going to remind them all what a punk witch can do.

Get ready for a riotous ride into the seedy underbelly of St Alphege’s, where gang warfare and occult conspiracies tear ordinary lives apart. Dyer Street Punk Witches is a standalone urban fantasy thriller, packed with tough, subversive characters and tense twists – you won’t be able to put down.

“In short, Dyer Street Punk Witches is about confronting a past that will never let go, until you turn and face it – forgive and move on. It’s the kind of storytelling that I eat up with a spoon because it’s like a fun beach read with a few lessons we can take home for ourselves. What a great story!”

Spirits of Vengeance by Rob J. Hayes

Another author who has made it to my top ten once before is Rob J. Hayes. Part of the Mortal Techniques series, Spirits of Vengeance, is an Asian-inspired world that is full of magic, intrigue, and gods walking the land. Rob’s clever storytelling and characters that are brimming with life, have firmly cemented my love of his world, guaranteeing I will come back and check out anything in this series.

Spirits of Vengeance by Rob J. Hayes

He’ll die as many times as it takes.

The Ipian Empire was once a land that welcomed dragons and spirits alike, but a century of war and bloodshed saw them all but vanish. Now, the lost things are returning and the Onryo have gathered. Five legendary spirits with mysterious powers, bent on freeing an ancient evil that would wreak havoc on humanity.

Haruto swore his soul to the God of Death for the chance to hunt down the vengeful ghost of his wife. Now an onmyoji, he’s tasked by the Imperial Throne to hunt down monsters and malicious spirits. But he knows not all spirits are evil and not all deserve the peace of the sword.

Kira is a student at Heiwa, an academy for children with dangerous techniques. But she has a secret, she’s not like the other students. When the school is attacked, she flees with one of the tutors, determined to hide both from those who would kill her, and those who would use her.

As a plague of spirits sweeps across the land, the Onryo leave a bloody trail for Haruto to follow. But who’s hunting who?

The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe.

 

“I really like and look forward to the way Hayes plans the sequences to these characters’ techniques too. He gives little glimpses throughout the story, planting the seed of what is possible, but not showing all, and even holding in reserve, some of their techniques until the finale. It makes for such exciting fight scenes that don’t feel stale from over-use while building and growing the character and story. I think this is one of the things that has impressed me the most over the last few books.”

The Umbral Storm by Alec Hutson

The Umbral Storm has a definite old school fantasy adventure feel in its set-up and I was surprised at how often it surprised me in its choices. The world feels huge and is loaded with various creatures and races and the magic is fun. But more importantly, the story kept me curious, asking questions and wanting to see how things play out. This is one series that I will be making time for the follow-up book.

The Umbral Storm by Alec Hutson

A thousand years ago the Heart of the World was shattered, its fragments scattered across the lands.

In the chaos that followed, martial orders arose to gather the shards, for it was found that great powers were granted when these pieces were bonded to the flesh of the chosen. These are the Sharded Few, warriors imbued with the divine energies that once coursed through the Heart, driven to absorb enough fragments to claim godhood.

Deryn has known nothing in his life except suffering. Orphaned at the edge of the realms, indentured to a cruel slaver, he has little hope of escaping his circumstances. But elsewhere, ancient powers are stirring, new alliances threaten the peace of the old order, and against all odds, Deryn will find himself a player in a game unlike anything he could have imagined.

“And I am happy to report, that I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It wasn’t the nearly 700 pages of grind that I feared, but instead took some of the classic feeling stuff that I love, and can never get enough – epic, chosen one etc. and blended it with touches of the more modern feel of the progression fantasy.”

The Girl Who Fell Beneath The Sea by Axie Oh

A little bit of cover shopping, and an interest in Korean folktales brought this little gem to my attention. I love retellings and this one didn’t disappoint. Full of great characters and friendships, I loved how as the story unfolded, more of the Korean culture becomes entwined in the plot, adding to its uniqueness. It’s beautifully told and I loved how everything came together in the end for a nice strong finish

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

“At first, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea didn’t feel all that different from many of the other retellings I have read over the years. I read a lot of fantasy which may be why some of it – the gods, dragons, curses, and fate – felt like pretty standard fare to me.

But as the tale unfolds, the culture becomes more entwined throughout the story, with the spirits (I loved everything about the river of souls) and animals, and also the ancestral family connections/rituals, so that was really nice to see. (I would have liked a bit more food – outside of the offerings, but that’s just me.)”

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

This story was full-on fun. Heist stories are always kind of my jam anyway, but even more so are misfit characters that have to work together to pull that heist. I loved all the interactions between the characters – reminded me of the first season Leverage – they’re smart-asses, snippy, and don’t play well with others, but learn to put aside their differences for the job. This ended with some great reveals. Some expected, some not, but all making me want to come back for the next book. I can’t wait!

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.

For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.

Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.

“The story does spend a bit of time setting up the board, introducing and letting us get a feel for the world and the characters but after that it’s a tense fast-paced, twisty-race to the end.

I’m just a big sucker for heist stories and misfit characters and Among Thieves hit all those buttons with me. I had a great time with this book.

Reign and Ruin by J. D. Evans

This is one of those times I am grateful for being a judge in SPFBO because without it, I may have not had the opportunity to read Reign and Ruin. This blended a lot of things I love – political power plays, romance, a villain I can hate – with a cool magic system that is very much a part of the world. Also, Naime and Makrum stole my heart, I wanted them together and in a romance that’s half the battle.

Reign and Ruin by J. D. Evans

“All magic is beautiful,” she said, “and terrible. Do you not see the beauty in yours, or the terror in mine? You can stop a heart, and I can stop your breath.”

She is heir to a Sultanate that once ruled the world. He is an unwanted prince with the power to destroy.

She is order and intellect, a woman fit to rule in a man’s place. He is chaos and violence and will stop at nothing to protect his people.

His magic answers hers with shadow for light. They need each other, but the cost of balance may be too high a price. Magic is dying and the only way to save it is to enlist mages who wield the forbidden power of death, mages cast out centuries ago in a brutal and bloody war.

Now, a new war is coming. Science and machines to replace magic and old religion.

They must find a way to save their people from annihilation and balance the sacred Wheel—but first, they will have to balance their own forbidden passion. His peace for her tempest, his restlessness for her calm…

Night and day, dusk and dawn, the end, and the beginning.

“There are clear boundaries on both sides with obvious and established villains. You know right away who is going to be a huge obstacle to their goals and their love. Which always makes for a lot of fun seeing how they’re going to go about solving their problems, or if they even will.”

Bloodlines by Peter Hartog

This twisty genre-smashing mystery, sported one of the more interesting “future our worlds” I have read in a while. I don’t think I have read a book that managed to juggle so many fascinating things, and make it work, the way this one did. If you want a fun, atmospheric-story with room in its world for new mysteries, and for the characters to expand and grow, then Bloodlines is a great place to start.

Bloodlines by Peter Hartog

When former hotshot homicide detective Tom “Doc” Holliday is recruited to join Special Crimes, he trades in his boring desk job for a second chance to do what he does best, hunt down killers. And his first case doesn’t disappoint: a murdered woman with a bogus past, her body drained of blood, and two eyewitnesses wasted on the designer drug goldjoy claiming a vampire did it.

For Holliday is no stranger to the unusual. He wields the Insight, a fickle clairvoyance that allows him to see the dark and terrible things that hide upon his world. After all, when you live in Empire City, where magic and technology co-exist, and humanity endures behind walls of stone and spell-forged steel, anything is possible.

Saddled with a team whose past is as checkered as his own, Holliday embarks upon an investigation that pits them against bio-engineered vampires, interdimensional parasites and the magical masterminds behind it all.

From nightclubs and skyscrapers, to underground drug labs and coffee shops, Holliday’s search for the truth will uncover a shadowy conspiracy that spans the ages, and forces him to confront a destiny he never wanted.

Bloodlines does a good job of catching that gloomy crime feel in a futuristic setting, while not pushing the envelope too far – letting it be a little more hopeful, colourful and fun. I enjoyed the story and especially the world. There is a lot of room for new and exciting crimes, and our team’s pasts, have only just been brushed upon, giving lots of room for them grow, and the mysteries within them to be expanded on.”

And that concludes Jen’s part of our Top 10 Reads of 2022 series. In case you missed it, you can check out Timy’s list too.

Let us know which of these books you’ve read or would like to read and what you think about them!

I live in the northern part of BC, where it’s winter for more of the year than I’d like. The plus side of not liking to be out in the cold, means I get to cuddle up under a blanket next to a fireplace and read. My husband and I have a few horses, free run some chickens, and of course there are bunnies… a lot of bunnies. The horses are his and the bunnies are mine, but he’s a good man and tries to love them too-even when they eat all his newly transplanted saplings.  When I’m not reading, or doing farm and animal chores - I love listening to music, painting, tv and movies, and walking.

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