Hello, hello! It’s time for the second of my ‘favourite reads of the year post’ and this one features the top ten stand-alone’s I read in 2022. I love a good stand-alone, especially if done well, because there’s no torturous wait for the second book, no cliffhanger you have to angst over for a year. Instead, everything is tied in a nice, hopefully neat bow. The books below all did that and more. They managed to pack the character exploration, world building and storyline of a much longer story into one book and I adored every single one. Similar to my Debut post (which you can check out here) I have included a snippet from my review, goodreads synopsis as well as a link to my full review (just click on the book cover) for each book if you want to check them out further.
The Shadow Glass
“Nerds unite! The Shadow Glass just seemed to slot into a place in me, a place filled with nostalgia & with my love for all things epic. If you like old style fantasies, where the line between good and bad is never blurry, and filled with characters that worm their way into your hearts then look no further.”
Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible — the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.
Nettle and Bone
“At under 300 pages this is an easy book to fly though, made easier by Kingfishers stereotypical witty, sharp and flowy writing style. How she uses the introductions of new characters, as well as a smattering of plot twists to further the plot is brilliantly done and makes what could have been a dull journey into something more magical and humorous.”
After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra―the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter―has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.
Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince―if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.
On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.
“Siren Queen is a story that lives up to it’s name in more ways than one. Thanks to Vo’s lush writing style, Luli’s story and the magical Hollywood she inhabits drags you in almost like a Siren song until you are in too deep to escape. But it’s also relevant to Luli’s journey throughout the book, how she becomes this beautiful monster more likely to wreck you than save you, a creature she had to become to survive in a world where she was looked down on for her heritage, deemed a monster because of who she loved, a world where she feared becoming just another actress with no lasting legacy, a world where she was quite happy to become a monster if it meant she would be a star.”
“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.
But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.
When Women Were Dragons
“When Women Were Dragons is a book filled with uplifting joy, profound sadness and uncontrollable rage and anger and is written in such a way you can’t help but feel a mixture of them all whilst reading. I can’t count the amount of times I had to put this book down, just step away because I could feel the anger pouring out of me whilst reading. Or how many times I teared up, be it through sadness or happiness.”
Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours. But this version of 1950’s America is characterized by a significant event: The Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales and talons, left a trail of fiery destruction in their path, and took to the skies. Seemingly for good. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved Aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of, even more so than her crush on Sonja, her schoolmate.
Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of dragons: a mother more protective than ever; a father growing increasingly distant; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and a new “sister” obsessed with dragons far beyond propriety. Through loss, rage, and self-discovery, this story follows Alex’s journey as she deals with the events leading up to and beyond the Mass Dragoning, and her connection with the phenomenon itself.
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
“The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is one of those books that’s almost impossible to sum up. Part romance, part western, part mystery… with a healthy does of zombies thrown in for good measure…I had heard Bannen liked to take her readers on a sort of emotional whirlwind and this was certainly no different,. Thanks to the added mystery we get an extra depth to the story that adds more tension as well as some heavy emotional scenes.”
Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.
Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.
After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.
If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?
“If you’re looking for a fantasy book with an easy to hate villain, a nice tied up ending where everything works out for the better, a story where the good guy get’s their happy ending… this isn’t going to be the book for you. The villain isn’t a person it’s a people, a people who still to this day do not see what they’re doing as wrong… It’s a book about resistance, about what it takes to survive in a world that doesn’t want to accept you, about rebellion and it’s cost.”
Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.
The city of dreaming spires.
It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.
And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.
Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.
Until it became a prison…
But can a student stand against an empire?
The Monsters We Defy
“I adored this book! It’s witty, adventurous, romantic and heartbreaking… Penelope’s writing style draws you into the story and I enjoyed the slow scenes where our characters were planning the heist, as much as the action packed, heart in your throat ones. This is a book that was impossible to put down, the pacing & plot twists made sure it flowed effortlessly & I never wanted it to end.”
Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.
Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotising with a melody to an ageing vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.
The Drowned Woods
“If you enjoy fast paced stories filled with lovable, and not so lovable characters, epic magic, fight scenes and plenty of folklore I can guarantee you will love this book.”
Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict – and eighteen-year-old Mererid ‘Mer’ is well-acquainted with both. As the last living water diviner, she can manipulate water with magic – a unique elemental power many would kill to possess.
For years, Mer has been running from the prince who bound her into his service – and forced her to kill thousands with her magic. Now, all Mer truly wants is a safe, quiet life, far from power and politics.
But then Mer’s old handler – the king’s spymaster – returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.
“If there was one word I could use to sum up this story it would be seductive. Everything about it from the story line, the characters, setting & the writing is incredibly alluring, and it’s easy to find yourself drawn into the pages, unable to put the book down. Hays writing style brings The Cloisters in all it’s gothic beauty to life, making it almost a character in it’s own right, and it’s hard not to feel drawn to the place, especially viewing it through the eyes if Ann who is captivated by it, not just by it’s beauty, but it’s danger and darkness. “
When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.
Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.
The Bone Orchard
“The Bone Orchard is an incredibly dark book, dealing with some strong themes such as rape (off page) as well as physical/mental abuse & the treatment of sex workers to name a few. It’s a book that highlights the depravity of humanity instead of hiding it, and shows the fragility of our minds and bodies, but also the strength we can show when the need arises.”
Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.
Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.
Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real.
Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.
now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.
If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil—her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.
Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.