Year in review: 2022 in books

I did away with the emojis and then I brought them back. I thought I would end up writing just one-liners but over holiday break, I wrote down what I remembered in some big chunks of late nights. I am still locked out of my Catch Star Girl blog so I started an Instagram account (the handle was available) which is a grid of mostly book covers – it’s eclectic and no one reading it. As usual, I surprise myself how much I read. You be the judge to the variety and quality!

Here is the Good Reads recap of my 2022 reading, because I log my reading there too (naturally): wyn’s Year in Books

This is my 11th year at the BLoB.


Charles Wheelan’s We Came, We Saw, We Left: A Family Gap Year (Jan 25, 2021) I recently flipped through Anthony Bourdain’s World Travels and it was not as advertised (rather, not as I thought it would be). I read the Canadian cities and returned it to the library. Sounds ideal, fantastic, nothing I can do, the utter reliance on Leah to manage the itinerary but more importantly where to stay and the budget. Is it sufficient to read “widely” and learn about the world because I’m early 40s and not going to experience it this way. But I can hope one of the kids will much surpass us. While 2021 books introduced me to music, the first book of 2022 had a recipe for me: Wheelan family Swedish pancakes which was mistaken for cocaine because a dog sniff it out as food, not drugs

Emily Henry’s The Love That Split The World (2016) Funny enough, I learned about this book through a Bing Rewards quiz where the question was “Which five books feature time travel?” The title grabs you of course. I started it on V-Day. A lot about dreams/hallucinations and psychoanalysis (giving credibility to it). It was interesting to have the counsellor interpreting it the way an 18yo could not. I’m not 100% sure what happened in the end because of Time Travel but I think it was a happy ending. It was a very sweeping feeling which is what I expected from the title, and I could almost be convinced that an 18yo could make good life choices.

🏮 Stacey Lee’s Luck Of The Titanic (May 4, 2021) A friend who doesn’t like period pieces read Downstairs Girl on my recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it. She reminded me how I told her last year about Luck when it was new. (Did I? I probably did, and mentioned that I wouldn’t read it.) I was stuck on “Indian” for so long I added it to my list for something easy to read, to check off the historical fiction box. Further, the protagonist has the surname Luck which back in the day with some real random Romanization of Chinese names, may have been my surname. It was a fun historical romp as before, giving a glimpse what the non-whites would have seen at the time, although it seemed to me the plucky heroine didn’t sound all that different from that of Downstairs Girl. (My Instagram “review”)

🍁 Jody Wilson-Raybould’s “Indian” In The Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power (Sept 21, 2021) This book was one I wanted to read to completed the 2021 reading challenge but could not. I was committed to reading it anyhow because it’s non-fiction, written by a local, and to educate myself a bit. Fortunately, she didn’t go into gruesome detail and I still don’t really know what happened except for generalities. It was the kind of book where she had something to say but she’s not much of an artful writer and it was heavy-handed and the “foreshadowing” was there from the start and kind of unpleasant reading.

🍁🏮 Ian Hamilton’s The Sultan of Sarawak (Jan 3, 2022) I don’t remember too much about this one. A rich family tried to get away with murder? Ava’s partner was filming that movie that is so utterly ground-breaking, and production of it is taking place in record time (much like Ava’s cases)? (My Instagram”review”)

Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People (Feb 7, 2020) This was such a neurotic book and I think that is the author’s style. People who don’t know each other but band together to help the botched robber get away. I just didn’t get it though.

Robyn Harding’s The Perfect Family (Aug 9, 2021) Here’s me dabbling in some thrillers for a different turn of things. I found myself up too late at night, alone, and freaked out to go to the kitchen to get water. It was delicious reading about the bad decisions each family member made and how the world crashed down, and everyone’s guilt complex.

🏮 Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised (2019) Another family that looks like they have it all but they are actually really hollow inside. The wife’s former fling is her husband’s brother who has come back into her life after decades away and how they reconnect and the conclusion of it that is kind of surprising but unassumingly the best way forward. (My Instagram “review”)

Sara Nisha Adams’ The Reading List (Aug 2021) Saw this book was available and being a lover of reading, stuck to it although reading about lifelong non-readers discovering reading was so inane, the story was not gripping. A friend and I came together to gripe about this novel and I was surprised she even read such a story – she said it was well rated – and I hadn’t thought she would read something like it so I never warned her about it!

🍁 Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians (2020) Auntie Jo found this one hard to read but it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. I am the eternal optimist hoping everything will turn out well but this book finally had me close to empathizing, understanding for a moment how difficult, near-impossible it is to get out from under the trauma. It’s not just grit, or luck, but there’s a whole system that if you aren’t Indigenous, you don’t understand how it’s against you.

🏮 Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, Philip Wang’s Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now (Mar 1, 2022) A fun romp through the 1990s with a dash of history thrown in. It felt like taking an Asian American studies course. I laughed out loud when the authors had a disclaimer about their viewpoints, admitting it’s not going to be representative since they are all three heterosexual males and two of them are named Phillip. A little bit eye-opening – like about Korea’s intended soft power cultural takeover – but mostly confirming my observations growing up in the 1990s. (My Instagram “review”)

🏮 Kelly Yang’s New From Here (Mar 1, 2022) Interesting how this book mirrors a bit Yang’s own experiences, moving here just before Covid. While the Evans family re-unites, Yang’s doesn’t for a while. It’s a novel I want Kiddo to read later, it’s to great to have these kinds of stories around. (My Instagram “review”)

Ivy Noelle Weir’s Anne of West Philly (Mar 1, 2022) Here I go falling headlong for anything Anne of Green Gables but I think I won’t chase down any more of this style after this. I didn’t even notice the name of the author and had to look it up for this blog post.

🏮 Kirstin Chen’s Counterfeit (June 7, 2022) A new mom full of malaise falls into the world of counterfeit handbags? It was a fun romp but reading it I didn’t know who to feel sympathetic for – probably more so Winnie. It was actually a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick or something and well rated. (My Instagram “review”)

🏮 Qian Julie Wang’s Beautiful Country (Sept 2021) I had this one on my list because I first saw it on Obama’s 2021 reading list. One of my favourite books that haunted me at the time so much as Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, about an undocumented single mother and her daughter. It glossed over the challenges more, delved into sweat factory life and had a turbulent romance which is what hooked me. Without the romance and with lots of details of angry parents and hunger, this was harder to read. But it’s Qian Julie Wang’s success story, her response to the new administration at the time she was ready to write this. (My Instagram “review”)

🎧 Audrey Blake’s The Girl in His Shadow (May 2021) I stumbled across this one when I was searching for a new book, that it was a Big Library Read or something, a general, accessible “book club” and by being the current Big Library Read, there were plenty of copies available. I opted for the audiobook version for something very interesting to listen to and it delivered. A child whose family dies of cholera is taken in as the ward of a brilliant surgeon and secretly trained on dissection, anatomical drawings and surgery under the cover of assisting like a midwife. New blood in the form of a young doctor coming to learn from the older surgeon threatens the careful secret of the household….

🏮 Karen Cheung’s The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir (Feb 15, 2022) Unknown to me, this memoir of life in Hong Kong was a highly anticipated book of 2022. What? Do people still care about Hong Kong when, I’m sorry to say, it’s half a lost cause? I know what I expected: discourse on Cantonese culture and the language. What I did not expect: details and many disadvantages of being in the international school system, the protests (which is naive of me to not expect) and a lot about the underground music scene. It’s fair, it what Cheung wanted to write and she’s much more of a Hong Konger than I ever will be so there was a lot to learn. If it weren’t for the subject, I wasn’t too sure what was so memoir-worthy though of her story. (My Instagram “review”)

🎧🍁🏮  Simu Liu’s We Were Dreamers (May 17, 2022) While it seemed like everyone was reading this – especially if you follow Simu Liu on Instagram and he’s re-posting other people’s stories of their reviews and reaction – and I finally got my hands on his memoir. It’s a must read for Canadians of my age who also grew up in/around Toronto. Further, he’s a former accountant and with the exception of the hyperbole, it was a fun account of his time with Deloitte. The encounters with his father were hard to read but it is what drove his story. I ended up listening to the audiobook fairly shortly after reading it and it was so heartfelt (or well conveyed by a good actor) and I 100% recommend the combination. (My Instagram “review”)

🎧 Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk (2020) It’s funny how while I get the “gist” of Zen Buddhism and I pretty much know the theme of the lessons, I still pick up a book like this. I started reading this years ago, I believe (March 2021) but I knew I was only “finishing” it as an audiobook and it’s enriching to hear it read by the author. My takeaways from it? Minimal, though.

Jennifer Ryan’s The One That You Want (July 4, 2022) Dove into this knowing it’s a pretty junky read but a dishy and fun premise where the main character returns home to be her best friend’s maid of honour and learns that the groom-to-be is someone she had a one-night stand with – oh, and the best man is the picture of perfection and they are smitten with each other from the moment they meet. The characters are so two-dimensional (the bride who single-mindedly wants to be married, the groom who is single-mindedly a rotten person) and there’s a sad supporting story about the main character returning home and mending the family that was broken by an abusive and recently deceased patriarch. Oh well, check off one Jennifer Ryan book to try that out but no more. I scrolled through some other titles (book covers) and they are raaaa-cy. Further, that’s a silly and terribly difficult to google book title.

Daniel Holzman and Matt Rodbard’s Food IQ (February 22, 2022) I was aiming to learn from one of these food-centric books and “food IQ” (like emotional IQ, or just IQ) sounded like a good start. It was more “theory” and less recipes although there were plenty of recipes that I “bookmarked” (screenshot from the reading app). I never really figured out who is Daniel and who is Matt – I was just there to learn more.

🎧 Will Smith’s Will (Nov 2021) The utter irony of this is how I rolled my eyes when NPY added Will to his Secret Santa wishlist for Christmas 2021 and I would lay down a lot of money that he wouldn’t read it. It’s just that he likes Will Smith and it was a hot book last year and he listed it and it’s an easy thing for the Secret Santa to purchase and it’s been sitting on a bookshelf in the storage room – because we don’t have a bookshelf in the living room – all year. Meanwhile, I either requested it or saw it come up as available the library and I listened to it and absolutely recommend it over reading it because it is ready by the author and his impersonations bring it to life.

🍁🏮  Cheuk Kwan’s Have You Eaten Yet (Jan 28, 2022) Another Chinese restaurants survey combined with a discourse on Chinese diaspora…? It’s been 20 years (!!) since Kwan’s Chinese Restaurants documentary series that I would have devoured back then except that streaming platforms did not yet exist and I had to have cable and a VCR (DVR?) to watch it. I barely watched one episode, I think. It’s probably on Youtube, an incomplete playlist. Anyhow, it’s the book that accompanies his travels to film that series and while it’s another Chinese restaurants survey, it was also different. The writer is a man of some success and experience at traveling and Chinese restaurants surveying so he’s more self-assured and you can hear it in his writing and bluntness. For another, it wasn’t a survey of restaurants limited to Canada or the United States but it was a global romp. It was a very light history lesson but a really sharp reminder that Chinese disapora is everywhere and how brace the immigrants are. I don’t know if Western culture is more intimidating to move to as Indian or African or South American! Because that’s where he traveled to. A few things struck me: they are often serving him fish and he is often heaping a lot of praise; he visited very successful restaurants; and the second generation children are very attuned with their culture – more? than if they grew up in North America – and it seemed like a large number of them went to China to study, a proportion that is not representative, or truly higher than North American second-generation immigrants going to China to Study. (My Instagram “review”)

Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry (Mar 29, 2022) I wouldn’t really have noticed this one except that Auntie Joan told me about it and when I first read the synopsis after seeing the book title, I discounted it. It sounded silly, but then seeing it on a book list here and there and I was convinced to try it. Feminism and feminism ahead of its time is great and that’s what makes for novel fodder but it also seemed extreme, like a cariacature, like that someone would wish a woman at the time would say. But it was well-written and engaging to the end so it has that.

🎧 Ashley Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (2015) I can’t say I really know and can fill in the gap between the publication of this biography and now but I can surely say that back in 2015, I think Musk was barely on my radar. It’s probably not a unique opinion that I have that is that I think Tesla cars aren’t that great looking and I don’t want to line the guy’s pockets and that his space company is gimmicky. He doesn’t seem stable and seems to talk from his ego. But spending some 8 or so hours listening to his biography, I’m reminded that really smart and intense people don’t think on the same wavelength to communicate like the rest of us. I’m appreciative that none of the successes were by accident and it’s a bit of the salacious details of the working conditions that existed for the companies to have the success they have.

🍁🏮 Jessamine Chen’s The School for Good Mothers (Jan 4, 2022) This is the one book I read this year that was on Obama’s 2022 reading list – interesting! Auntie Joan did not like this one because she’s not into science fiction and that both motivated me to read it and and enjoy it because that is one of my preferred genres, but I also felt like it was clunky to start. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief how the mother could leave her toddler the way she did. Suspend the disbelief and start to believe that if there was a ton more surveillance, the kind of trouble parents making ordinary decisions to maintain order and their sanity would get in. It was a “twist” with the dolls at the school and they were super freaky simply by being nearly sentient dolls. And a super sad twist at the end – as usual, I was rooting for all the pieces to fall into place but it was nearly the opposite! (My Instagram “review”)

🍁🏮 Ian Hamilton’s Finale: The Lost Decades of Chow Tung Tung (July 4, 2022) When I finished the third novel of The Lost Decades of Chow Tung, I read somewhere that Hamilton had planned for it to be a trilogy but there was more to say, suggesting a fourth installation and more. Thankfully, although it was a fun series to read, the fourth installation was the last. Things seemed to move quickly and Chow’s mortality and the end of it all was looming. It was interesting to see him tying up his affairs and we got Uncle’s perspective on a case which I recently read from Ava’s perspective (Sultan of Sarawak?). I wonder if it was particularly touching because an older male writer was writing about the final year for an older male protagonist? (My Instagram “review”)

🏮 Jane Pek’s The Verifiers (Feb 22, 2022) I think I came across this title while browsing for books to download immediately and I recognized the surname is Chinese but from somewhere else – Singapore? Malaysian? A different perspective, to be sure. Claudia has a new job that is fairly satisfying but she has to keep it secret. Her small firm has some might in the space that runs investigations when hired by people who want to know more who they are dating online. There was also the supporting story of Claudia’s family and the banter between the three siblings was done so well. I also liked the use of a Wuxia detective series (entirely fictional) to support the story and advising Claudia how to handle the novel situations. It was another novel that Brenda and I serendipitously both read – maybe our tastes are converging a little? (My Instagram “review”)

🎧🍁🏮 Xiran Jay Zhao’s Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor (May 10, 2022) The protagonist is named Zachary Ying which is Kiddo’s middle name coupled with the surname of an ex-boyfriend. I read Zhao’s Iron Widow last year and it was a middle-school lesson about Wu Zetian, China’s only female empress. It’s a middle-school novel, premised on gaming and has a healthy dose of history lesson: audiobook is the way to go. It was a fun ride with historical references, verbal sparring between the emperors and poking fun at the Western world’s self-centered view of history. I think I had listened to the original audiobook which was narrated by a Japanese voice actor and at the Wiki page, there are link-outs to Tweets by the author announcing the audiobook is being done with a Mandarin speaker who won’t botch the pronunciation. People who read Iron Widow first will learn about two other emperors in this novel: Qin Shi Huang Tong Taezong and a whole host of other Chinese mythology including the Eight Immortals.

Catherine Belknap & Natalie Telfer’s Mom Secrets: Coffee-Fueled Confessions from the Mom Trenches (March 29, 2022) I think I had first heard of Cat & Nat was writers for their first installation published in 2019 but only got around to their second one and that’s enough of learning about them. They are fun and keep it real in writing and all of the reader questions they answered, well, have no fear, they don’t only advocate that you are that picture-perfect Instagram parent and they give you a pass and tell you they would do the same as the person submitting the reader question. As with Food IQ, I never really sussed out who was who.

🍁 S.C. Lalli’s Are You Sara? (Aug 1, 2022) I was browsing a list of books for fall reading the and short synopsis of this book had me intrigued and requesting it although I don’t generally like thrillers! The story and the mess that was surviving Sara’s life was interesting, real mysteries about Jason Knox and how bad that got, that mysteriously, unreal good guy who was her classmate, what choices she made in the end.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time (2015) I can’t remember how I came across this one. The author’s recognizable name, the sweeping sound of the title, the fantastic reviews and vlogs exclaiming that you won’t see sci-fi the same way. I could use that! It was the longest book I read all year, some 600 pages (16 hours if I had listened to it). I had no idea that I would be reading about sentient spiders and their battles with fellow sentient insects and it was fascinating. The world being built was so in-depth I think it was halfway through and the (second) first contact we anticipate hadn’t happened. The human story was good, too, through the eyes of redundant-then-useful classicist, and bringing to the forefront a psychological as well as logistical problem with the freezing/suspension solution to extending life.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s After I Do (2014) Since I’ve enjoyed a couple of TJR’s novels (Maybe In Another Life and Daisy Jones & The Six), I requested this title after a friend told me about it. Turns out she didn’t rave about it, but had commented that it was insightful about marriage. Yes, there were insights but nothing that new or shocking. Afterall, they had only been married for a few years compared to wherever I’m at, and with kids. I had little sympathy for the trials of these young’uns, LOL.

🍁🏮 Roselle Lim’s Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club (Aug 15, 2022) I read Lim’s first novel Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune and the presence of a magic book and her cooking doing magic was about more than I could stomach but I stuck through it to give this new-to-me and new author a try. Magic and fantasy and ghosts I try to avoid but the synopsis of this novel made me request it despite myself. I was ready (sort of) to put it down if it was magical to the same extent. It wasn’t though and I enjoyed the parade of mail supporting characters and Sophie’s rebellion against her mother was tough to read but rings so true to my twenty-something former self. That mother – quite the caricature and glad the author dealt with her the way she did. I ended up enjoying this one a lot and retract my baseless warning to Auntie Joan about it! Oh, I was in disdain for that really immature candy addition that Sophie has but the description of the Asian candies and other food, it made up for it.

🏮 Carolyn Huynh’s The Fortunes of Jaded Women (Sept 5, 2022) I couldn’t resist the jade-like colour of the cover even if the illustration is a bit simple. And reading about a Vietnamese family is a tiny deviation from my tried and true and also like visiting old friends, when I was in a dance troupe with the Halifax Vietnamese society in uni. Keeping the names straight was fun – I was always slow on the ball with it.

That rounds out the year. And because I track my reading in yet another way, here is my Indigo 2022 Reading Challenge bingo board: Bingo! three ways, all without having to read “A book recommended through #AskIndigo”

On this day..