2022 Reading Challenge Round Up

Monday on Pretty Literate Live I shared briefly the books I chose each month for Pretty Literate's 22 in '22 Reading Challenge. (Click here to watch a replay.) I decided to delve a little deeper into each of those 22 selections right here, so if you're looking for some stellar book recs to start 2023 reading, I gotchu.

Here's a 2022 Reading Challenge Round Up of authors and titles I could (& would!) recommend to my closest friends.

To you!


January's Challenge was a book that took place in Winter. I chose Kristin Hannah's Winter Garden because after one of my Founding Members of PL's Book Club introduced me to Kristin Hannah, she has managed to hit a home run in my heart every. single. time. she's gone up to bat. And that speaks volumes!

Winter Garden is maybe my 6th KH novel to read in the past year and I have enjoyed every single one of them. I read Winter Garden in mid-January when the first cold weather of winter visited us here in the south. That alone heightened my experience of this novel about the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. Part Russian history, part family dynamics, this book contained a story-within-a-story and dealt with heavy issues like loss and the grief it leaves in its wake, as well as how differently people process loss. It demonstrated how our primary relationships early in life mold and shape us into who we become and how those early relationships affect our primary relationships later in life. By the end of the novel, I wanted to simultaneously hug my sisters, visit my Mom's gravesite, take a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and go on a cruise to Alaska.

If you've struggled with your past or experienced difficult family relationships, Winter Garden is a must-read.


February's Challenge included two books in recognition of Black History Month: a book written by a black author, and a book written about some aspect of black history.

I read Passing for the first time in 2021 as I was researching upcoming novels to read inside the Monthly Book Club in 2022. I reread it in February because the topic was so fascinating to me that I felt it warranted a reread. And I was right. Nella Larsen's 1929 novel compares and contrasts the lives of 3 African-American women - all light of color enough to pass as white in their everyday lives.

One does just that, marrying a racist white man who does not know she is passing.

One does not, marrying an African-American doctor and living the American dream as a prosperous black family. 

One served as a hybrid of the two positions, married to a white man, but living the life of an interracial couple openly.

I found the lives each woman led intriguing, their marriages so alike even as they differed, and the prejudices held even within one's own race gripping - especially upon reread.

The sweet icing on Nella Larsen's cake was the awesome surprise ending. I love a good surprise ending, don't you?

While Passing ticked both boxes for February's Challenge, I also read Lalita Tademy's Cane RiverCane River was a novel I discovered on the Brilliant Books for Black History Month list that was one of the most recommended and a few pages into it, I easily understood why. Set in south Louisiana, the novel traced the history of the author's family, generation by generation, from slavery to blessed freedom. The novel's voice was very personal, almost like a love letter to who the author is and where she came from which I found absolutely beautiful. The author, while not glossing over the less savory aspects of our nation's history, wrote a truly enlightening novel, sharing real tragedy and the breadth of the human experience without abusing the reader in the process. (Think: Indian-American filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan's movies which show just enough to know what is happening without exposing the moviegoer to the full picture.)

If you are amazed by strong, black women and the sacrifices they make for their children's futures, or marvel at great determination in the face of overwhelming odds, this novel is for you. If you want to read a real "overcomer" book, this novel is for you. If you need a healthy dose of perspective, this. book. is. for. you.


March's Challenge included two books, one that was set in the spring and another that was a book rec from my library - preferably one with a title or author wholly unfamiliar to you.

The Island of Sea Women, my library book rec by an unknown author, was a work of fiction that read like the memoir of one of the diving women on the Korean island of Jeju set around the division of Korea in 1945 and was the first book I remembered ever reading set exclusively in Asian culture. I am hooked now, by the way - both on Lisa See, and on novels set in Asian cultures. 

The Island of Sea Women had:

  • intergenerational relationships seen through the lens of a different culture
  • forgiveness
  • community
  • a peek behind the curtain into a different religious belief
  • survivor's guilt
  • honor-shame worldview
  • community-wide reading
  • the power of perspective
  • the power (and harm) of rumors
  • overcoming
  • sacrifice

One of the most memorable parts of reading The Island of Sea Women for me, however, was reading it while Russia invaded Ukraine in real-time. Reading the islanders' thoughts on their own Russian invaders and how the Americans eventually liberated them (which felt like exchanging one invader for another to the islanders) really was eye-opening to me.  

If you'd like to read a book by an amazing female author that writes about unbelievable women and is guaranteed to give you a much-needed punch of perspective, you've found that book in The Island of Sea Women.

My second book, the one set in spring, was A Room With a View by E.M. Forster. I was unaware that the movie classic by the same title (which I have yet to see) was based on this classic novel by E. M. Forster until 2021. I loved it so much that I re-read it two more times which is why it made an obvious choice for March's book inside the Monthly Book ClubA Room With a View follows a young, British lady as she experienced all the firsts of young adulthood - her first international experiences as she traveled abroad, her first time away from her parents' watchful gaze, her first time to interpret the world through her own eyes... 

A Room With a View had it all - music and murder, the love of literature, female friendships, family relationships, characters so memorable that they brought to mind some of the funniest and most well-written people you've met in other beloved novels, and the blossoming of sweet love.

It was quite easily a perfect-for-springtime classic and one that I look forward to re-reading seasonally. I think you should, too.


My April Reading Challenge consisted of two books - one with a month in the title and another title you've never read written by an author you already love.

Cotillion is the book I chose by an author I already love. It kind of had a homey feel to it for me. It centered around Kit and her gaggle of male cousins. Having grown up with a score of cousins myself, these family relationships were what felt homey to me. Their easy relationships, their shared memories, and their older relations that wanted them to behave a certain way, all made me remember fondly my cousins of old and the shenanigans we always seemed to gravitate toward when we were together. And I loved that!

Young Kitty is not the cleverest of heroines (and I love a clever heroine). She began schemes that she hadn't the faintest idea how to conclude. She relied heavily on one of her male cousin's thoughts on just about everything, except when it counted. On those, she chose to fly solo, got into scrapes, and was relieved when said cousin saved the day.

I think that if I changed my perspective from expecting a clever heroine (like in my first Heyer novel) to having a hero, I would maybe have enjoyed the act of reading Cotillion more. Hopefully that's a good tip for you if you choose to read this Georgette Heyer novel.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim was, obviously, my book pick with a month in the title and was the ultimate Aprily, spring-break, beautiful, fragrant book. It was a women's retreat. A place of peace and rest. And that was why I chose it for our April book in the Monthly Book Club this year. 

The Enchanted April introduced us to the four main characters as they were introduced to one another. The one thing they each felt they desperately needed was to get away for a while. They need rest. Refreshment. Peace. Beauty. Solitude. And each of their hopes for achieving that rested in sharing a rented castle in Italy. (Yes, please!) The reader quickly discovered that there is a character for each of us to relate to - kind of like the old television show The Golden Girls. As the women got to know one another, misunderstandings, large personalities, and personal preconceptions set the stage for laughable interactions that subtly whispered into the reader's ear the importance of not judging a book by its cover.

The Enchanted April is a must-read spring book. Trust me.


May's Challenge was all about the Pulitzer Prize - one winner from the current year, another winner during your personal lifetime.

Chasing Me to My Grave (a 2022 winner) was one of those "walk a mile in my shoes"-type books (sometimes cringey, sometimes sympathetic, always honest) that left you feeling like you'd gained insight into someone else's experience that you would never have had the opportunity to obtain walking a hundred miles in your own shoes.

My husband and I both appreciated the truthful narrative shared, one that did not shy away from or gloss over the less-than-savory aspects of Mr. Rembert's life or the mistakes that he made that hurt not only himself but his wife and family. It is a story of forgiveness, redemption, and the role others play in helping us find our way on the path of life. It is an artist's tale, told through a unique medium. 

  • If you love books set during the Depression...
  • If you are a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird or The Help...
  • If you are interested in books about the history of the south...
  • ...you might love Chasing Me to My Grave by the late Winfred Rembert.

All the Light We Cannot See was my second choice, a World War II novel (and 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner) that followed the lives of two teens during that terrible war - one in France, the other in Germany - until their lives crossed briefly, but significantly. It was an excellent story highlighting that, even if we do not see how, each of us has something to contribute to making the world a better place, to blessing the lives of those with whom we come in contact (even if it is for just a brief moment in time).

It is a book that encourages the thought that we are all created uniquely and individually and our lives have a purpose. Our lives matter, even if all we can see are our shortcomings (or things we feel would disqualify us from achieving our purpose.) Both our glories and our brokenness can be instruments through which that purpose can be achieved.

We are, each of us, more than the sum of what has happened to us.

We can move forward.

We can move past our pasts.

We can have an impact.

  • If you're interested in a WW2 novel that does not gloss over the atrocities, but also does not sink the reader into the mire of them;
  • if your curiosity is piqued by Hitler's Youth; 
  • if you're into breaking-the-code and clever puzzles;
  • if you are a strong believer in the importance of adults in forming children (and the lasting influence those adults have during the formative years)...
  • ...then you might just love All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 


June's Challenge included a book that is intimidating to you (time to tackle it!) and a book you've seen someone reading in public.

I started June with a book that was intimidating to me, one that took up a good portion of the month, and one that I am so thankful that I settled down to {finally!} read. It's one that's been on my shelf for quite some time and its sheer girth (over 1000 pages!) made me pass it by time and time again. I think the reason I included an intimidating book on June's Reading Challenge was that I needed a good reason to conquer this giant. 

I'm talking about Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gone With the Wind. Let me first confess that other than the famous line -

Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a d---.

- I was a completely blank slate. I've never seen the movie. I've never had a discussion with anyone about the book. Heck, I didn't even know the setting was the Civil War - something my friend, Mirah, will undoubtedly roll her eyes about due to our ongoing schtick about me never reading dust jackets. 

If you love a book that pulls you into its pages from the very start, engages all the feels, then spits you out at the end like a plug of plantation tobacco, you will absolutely LOVE Gone With the Wind. Reading Margaret Mitchell's classic felt akin to traveling not only to Georgia, but back in time - living and breathing the rising tensions in the deep south around the Civil War.

Quite simply, it is a trip you will not soon forget.

I experienced my second book in the Challenge (one that I saw someone reading in public) via audiobook since I was knee-deep in my aforementioned intimidating read and my poor eyes needed a break, but I must confess that I am at a crossroads with what to say about it.


Simply put, I disliked it. A LOT. I could not connect with a single character. The book seemed to be an ode to fast living and I struggled with the want to finish it. No one seemed to want to make something of their life. Instead of investing their time, they gambled it away on booze, sex, and bullfighting. I concede that the narration may have caused my hearty dislike of this novel (by one of my husband's favorite fiction writers, no less!), but I just did not get the appeal. 

Have you guessed the novel? It is none other than Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (circa 1926), which I spotted a young woman reading at my local bookstore in June. 



July's Challenge included a book that took place in the summer and a book by or about a contemporary public figure.

My choice for a summer book was Firefly Lane, chosen because Netflix kept telling me I'd like the series and I prefer to read the book before I watch a screen adaptation. 

Plus, Kristin Hannah. (Seriously, I have absolutely LOVED every single book I've read by Kristin Hannah. Tell me I'm not alone.)

Firefly Lane hooked me from the very first page and if you're a fellow Kristin Hannah fan, you know exactly what I mean. This book has ALL the feels, not just the weepy, ugly-crying ones. 

Firefly Lane was a chronological tale of female friendship. The two main characters first met as teenagers and throughout the pages of the novel, they matured into middle adulthood. It wasn't always a clean transition and at times the subject matter was extremely heavy, but it was worth it to me as a feely kind of reader to experience not just the good, but also the bad with these characters that I grew to love. 

Firefly Lane is heavy on relationships - with your family of origin; your "chosen" family; marriage; mother/daughter; friends - and the impact they leave on our lives.

I loved that the book demonstrated the importance of humility in relationships because I think it is an oft-neglected, but very important ingredient in the success of connecting with others.

For those that have experienced first-hand some of the hard themes covered in Firefly Lane, I wanted to give a heads-up. This book may be triggering to those that have experienced:

  • drug/alcohol abuse
  • sexual assault
  • toxic relationships
  • abandonment

That said...

If you are in the mood for a book to take you emotionally captive, Firefly Lane is exactly what you didn't know you wanted to read.

If you loved the movie Beaches (or the song "Wind Beneath My Wings"), Firefly Lane should be your next novel.

My second challenge book was Talking As Fast As I Can - a book by/about contemporary public figure Lauren Graham. It took me a bit of searching to figure out who I wanted to learn about but when I was checking out my local library's selection of available audiobooks and saw Lauren Graham's listed, I knew I'd found just the right one.

I was a HUGE Gilmore Girls fan "back in the day." My husband and I had a standing weekly date after we tucked the kids in bed to watch our favorite fast-talking mother/daughter duo, fully appreciating all of the pop culture references and vicariously experiencing the flirty banter that they served up on the show each week at Luke's Diner.

Talking As Fast As I Can (narrated by Lauren Graham herself - bonus treat!) was a clever memoir of life lessons couched in humor and reminiscences like -

  • Don't fast-forward your life.
  • Don't live your life stuck in a course. If it's not working, it's okay to pivot.
  • Don't give up. There are a lot of failures in life before success comes.
  • "There's a lid for every pot." (My personal favorite.)

If watching episodes of Gilmore Girls brought a smile to your face, Talking As Fast As I Can will, too. 

If you've ever wished you could live in Stars Hollow, Talking As Fast As I Can will feel like going back home.

If you love sneak peeks, behind-the-scenes type stuff, Talking As Fast As I Can delivers.

If you are a fellow Gen-X'er, Talking As Fast As I Can will hit all the sweet spots.


The two books to read in August included a book that was made into a movie during the current year and a book that was made into a television series any year.

Even though I owned a hard, heavy copy of the latest in the Outlander series, I opted to use my Audible credit in August to buy the audiobook version of Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon because after chipping away at it a little every month during 2022, I was still only 100 pages into this 900+ page novel when August began. I'm so glad I did, too! Not only did the narrator bring a little something extra to the experience, but I was able to finally finish this book that I've been working on for the past 8 months - and enjoy every minute of it!

Fellow Outlander fan (and Monthly Book Club member) Kristen pointed out earlier this year that anytime you spend on Fraser's Ridge was a good time - and that definitely included the audiobook version of Gabaldon's cult classic. There were parts that I struggled to remember in the context of the entire series (since seven years had elapsed since the last book was published), as well as some shockingly unbelievable bits and a cliffhanger ending that I still have one eyebrow raised about, but I immensely enjoyed my time with everyone's favorite Scot and his growing family's exploits (in both book forms).

The book I chose that was made into a movie this year was an easy pick for me - Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. I was eager to read the book and then enjoy a date night with my husband to watch the screen adaptation.

Unfortunately, I found that there were too many characters introduced immediately & I struggled to keep them straight in both formats. (This is an ongoing theme with me.) In addition to that, I continued to struggle until I was 1/3 of the way through the book when {finally!} something happened. Until that point, I am afraid it felt like I was on a vacation with a bunch of strangers that knew one another previously and I was simply the odd man out.

Lest you think I did not find anything redeeming about Death on the Nile, I want to point out that the premise is solid and I did NOT see the ending coming - both of which are must-haves for a good murder mystery.

In the end, both the book and the movie had a slow roll and if you're into that kind of thing, Death on the Nile is definitely made for you. Go enjoy them both.


The September Challenge books were one published the year you were born and another that is the first in a series.

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton was my "first book in a series" and I absolutely loved every page. In it, the main characters raced against the clock to discover the cause of death of every citizen in a small, rural town - everyone except one elderly man and one newborn baby with colic, that is. It was a super interesting "behind-the-scenes" look at biological research and an engaging "what-if" scenario to read in these post-pandemic days. 

I recommend The Andromeda Strain if you enjoy Andy Weir's writings - absorbing sci-fi with decent storylines that sometimes can read heavy on the science. 

(Bonus: There are only two in the series, so reading Crichton's entire series is super doable.)

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier was my pick for a book published the year I was born. Until The House on the Strand, the only du Maurier book I'd read was Rebecca and since I wanted to get a better feel for her writing, this choice was a no-brainer. The House on the Strand began smack-dab in the middle of...well, something...though the reader isn't quite sure what that something could be. (I read the first chapter twice because I wondered if I had missed something. Haha!) By Chapter 4, I was totally engrossed. The House on the Strand is a British tale that will lead you on a vicarious adventure through the flawed main character's accidental time travels and has the bonus perk of reminding the reader that actions have consequences.

I recommend The House on the Strand if, like me, you loved Rebecca and have not read anything else by the author, or you are a fan of time travel adventures, or you loved the tv show FRINGE.


My October Challenge books included a book recommended by a stranger and a mystery with a detective I've never read.

I read A Sparrow Falls Holiday as my mystery with a detective I've never read. It was a collection of cozy mysteries by author Donna McLean and y'all, it is full of feel-good vibes and cozy short mysteries set in a location near and dear to the author - the Carolinas. This clever book of short stories reminded me of Jan Karon's Mitford, if Mitford were shrouded in Mystery.

In A Sparrow Falls Holiday, I was treated to four seasonal cozy mysteries:

  • December's cozy mystery was an unexpected jewel heist with the most unlikely of thieves.
  • February's mystery was, appropriately, an unexpected love story - one I would particularly love to read as a full-length novel.
  • July's story is an all-American, Marple-esque mystery.
  • October's read like a throwback to childhood, sitting 'round the campfire telling ghost stories.

Donna McLean's cozy mystery series set in idyllic Sparrow Falls should definitely be on everyone's must-read list. You can check out Donna's catalog of titles at her website (Sparrow Falls Mystery) and then stop by to say "Hi!" at Quaint Cottage Mysteries on Facebook. I know she'd love to meet you.

(Click here to watch Pretty Literate Live: the one when author Donna McLean and I talk Mysteries.)

Since I spent the summer testing the waters at TikTok, I thought I would ask Pretty Literate's followers for a book rec for my second selection. And they responded!

After narrowing the choices, I went with The Ten Thousand Doors of January for two reasons - the library had it available and the title was insanely intriguing (not to mention beautiful).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January reminded me of my days in Narnia. (Who doesn't love Narnia?)

In a nutshell, it was a fantasy novel that was long on adventure and big on taking the driver's seat in your own life. In other words, write your own story. Literally. (That's an Easter Egg for those who've read the book. Giggles!)

Personally, the writing style was a little difficult for me to follow (think Cloud Cuckoo Land), but I can definitely see why it was recommended and, in the end, I am glad that I have that story tucked into the folds of my brain. (Note: Fantasy isn't my jam, but if you have a preference for it, I could see why you'd enjoy this one immensely.)


November's Challenge was one book that is widely considered a classic. 

I picked Dubliners because I was doing a little research for a possible future book for our Monthly Book Club. I struggled with it, to be honest. I DNFd it and then picked it back up a week later intent on finishing it with a little help from Audible. I read along to Chris O'Dowd's voice and I have to admit, the Irish accent & cadence helped. A lot.

Now that I have finished it, I'm glad I read Dubliners. I'm glad I stuck it out and found a way to connect with it even though at the time it seemed like little more than a series of men's locker room stories. (There were a couple of gems tucked in there, as well - the short story titled Clay was my favorite.)

I think I will spend a little time getting to know the author before I plunge into another of his tales, but I am very pleased that I feel like I will pick up another James Joyce novel in the future.


The 22 in '22 Reading Challenge (and year!) ended with a book published this year and a another book that I have seen or heard mentioned all year long.

The book I chose that was published this year was The Maid by Nita Prose. Y'all, this book was just everything you didn't know you wanted to read. It was a murder mystery featuring a neurodivergent main character and I know that does not sound as interesting as it was, but I was so completely blown away by the writing that I gifted The Maid to someone in the Monthly Book Club for Jolabokaflod.

The book I chose that I've seen all year was A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas. This book did nothing short of stalk me all year and was a no-brainer when it came to completing the challenge. Since this month was so full of everything holly and jolly, I opted to experience it via audiobook so I could still get all the wrapping, cleaning, cooking, etc. done and still enjoy finishing the challenge. All I can say is...I'm hooked! Not only am I hooked, I just finished listening to the second in the series and it has made my daily commute enjoyable!

2022 Reading Challenge Round Up

Have you read any good books this year that fell into one or more of the categories above? Did you take the 22 in '22 Reading Challenge? Share your titles in the comments.

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