Best of 2022: Adult fiction & nonfiction

Oak Park’s Best of 2022 returns! Our annual librarian-curated selection of titles features some of the titles most requested and checked out by Oak Parkers.

See our adult fiction and nonfiction favorites on this page or browse more using the links below.

Adult fiction: General | Adult fiction: Romance, lives & relationships | Adult fiction: Mystery, history & sci-fi | Adult nonfiction | Teen fiction | Kids books | Picture books | TV shows | Movies | Music

Adult fiction: General

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Why you should try it: A certified staff favorite! Folks said it was "heartwarming and thought-provoking" with "realistic and dynamic characters," even saying there was "nothing not to love about this moving book". —Ashley, Digital Engagement Coordinator; Christine, Patron Services Library Assistant; Kay, Adult Services Library Assistant

Description: On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice's life isn't terrible. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn't just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it's her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

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Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Why you should try it: Another staff favorite! Staff loved this "dystopian/not so dystopian" novel that felt "scarily possible" and is "beautifully written with themes of quiet devastation and hope".—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian; Rose, Adult Services Librarian

Description: For a decade, Bird's family's life has been governed by laws written to preserve "American culture" in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic. Bird has grown up disavowing his gone-without-a-trace mother and her poems. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her.

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Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Why you should try it: "An exquisitely slow, haunting, and interior exploration of love, loss, grief, and trauma. It exists in an unusual space between horror, speculative fiction, and fairy tales."—Rose, Adult Services Librarian

Description: A marine biologist, Leah left for a routine expedition months earlier, only this time her submarine sank to the sea floor. When she finally surfaces and returns home, her wife Miri knows that something is wrong. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded, Leah has carried part of it with her, onto dry land and into their home. As Miri searches for answers, desperate to understand what happened below the water, she must face the possibility that the woman she loves is slipping from her grasp.

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The Other Mother by Rachel Harper

Why you should try it: "I enjoyed the immediate reveal of all the players in this intense family drama because it made the slow unraveling and reconfiguring of the meaning of family and parenthood so much more compelling."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Jenry Castillo is a musical prodigy, raised by a single mother in Miami. He arrives at Brown University on a scholarship—but also to learn more about his late father, Jasper Patterson, a famous ballet dancer who died tragically when Jenry was two. On his search, he meets his estranged grandfather, Winston Patterson, a legendary professor of African American history and a fixture at the Ivy League school, who explodes his world with one question: Why is Jenry so focused on Jasper, when it was Winston's daughter, Juliet, who was romantically involved with Jenry's mother?

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Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Why you should try it: "The author of Station Eleven put out another beautifully written book that follows different characters and goes through different timelines from past to future. The kind of book you want to savor as you learn more and more about the link between all the characters throughout time."—Margita, Adult Services Librarian

Description: A novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon 500 years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

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The Island by Adrian McKinty

Why you should try it: "This is the second book I read from this author and I love the action, thrill, and propulsion he brings into every novel. This will keep you reading every page and have you on your toes."—Camayia, Materials Handling Supervisor

Description: As soon as Heather Baxter, her new husband, and his kids set foot on a remote vacation island—which is run by a tightly-knit clan of locals—everything feels wrong. Then a shocking accident propels the Baxters from an unsettling situation into an absolute nightmare. When Heather and the kids are separated from Tom, they are forced to escape alone, seconds ahead of their pursuers. Now it's up to Heather to save herself and the kids, even though they don't trust her, the harsh bushland is filled with danger, and the locals want her dead.

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How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Why you should try it: "Reading a story with a pandemic isn't easy having experienced one in real life, but on top of the melancholy atmosphere, there's a sense of hope woven through that softened the blow of death and grief. It's beautiful to see how humans faced with widespread tragedy find the strength to continue on and help each other."—Jericho, Patron Services Library Assistant

Description: In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus. Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy.

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Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O'Connell

Why you should try it: "This book features the adventures of a young, disabled, gay man in Los Angeles working in the highly competitive world of television writing. O'Connell, who has written for two shows about similar characters takes many situations and emotions he has navigated in this challenging world and adapted them to this book."—Ed, Adult Services Librarian

Description: Elliott appears to be living the dream as a successful TV writer with a doting boyfriend. But behind his Instagram filter of a life, he's grappling with an intensifying alcohol addiction, he can't seem to stop cheating on his boyfriend with various sex workers, and his cerebral palsy is making him feel like gay Shrek.

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If This Book Exists, You're in the Wrong Universe by Jason Pargin

Why you should try it: "This is the fourth book in the John Dies at the End series by David Wong, and the first published under the author's real name. Horror, comedy, cosmic speculative fiction, and more all in one insane volume."—Michael, Adult Services Library Assistant

Description: Dave, John, and Amy face supernatural threats so the rest of us don't have to--and sometimes even earn a couple of bucks to so do. But between the bloody ritual sacrifices and soul-crushing nightmares, our trio realizes this apocalypse is way above their pay grade.

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Liberation Day by George Saunders

Why you should try it: "I so rarely laugh out loud when reading a book by myself, but George Saunders got me there with this short story collection. First comes LOL, then comes heartbreak, as Saunders immerses us in the absurdity, cruelty, unfairness, and beauty of humanity. This collection reminds us that we're all trapped inside our own heads, we're all flawed, and we all deserve tenderness."—Kristen, Communications Writer & Editor

Description: A collection of prismatic, resonant stories that encompass joy and despair, oppression and revolution, bizarre fantasy, and brutal reality. Together, these nine subversive, profound, and essential stories coalesce into a case for viewing the world with the same generosity and clear-eyed attention Saunders does, even in the most absurd of circumstances.

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The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Why you should try it: "Partly a mystery book as you try to learn what happened to the main character's beloved violin passed down to him but now stolen but also dives into his trials trying to make it in the classical music world and overcome the racism he faces as he pursues his passion. Was a great audiobook."—Margita, Adult Services Librarian

Description: Ray has a gift and a dream—he's determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. When he discovers that his beat-up, family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach, and together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But when the violin is stolen and a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place, Ray feels like he's lost a piece of himself. As the competition approaches, Ray must not only reclaim his precious violin but prove to himself—and the world—that no matter the outcome, there has always been a truly great musician within him.

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Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Why you should try it: "This is an exceptional coming-of-age debut novel with an unforgettable main character. I was completely emotionally invested."—Kathy, Collection Management Librarian

Description: As Malaya comes of age in a rapidly gentrifying 1990s Harlem, she strains to understand "ladyness" and fit neatly within the suffocating confines of a so-called "femininity" that holds no room for her body. She finds solace in the lyrical riffs of Biggie Smalls and Aaliyah, and in the support of her sensitive father, Percy; still, tensions at home mount as rapidly as Malaya's weight. Nothing seems to help—until a family tragedy forces her to finally face the source of her hunger on her own terms.

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Our Colors by Gengoroh Tagame

Why you should try it: "Tagame has been a favorite of mine since I read My Brother's Husband, and this new story is tender and careful and moving."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Sora Itoda is a 16-year-old aspiring painter who experiences his world in synesthetic hues of blues and reds, governed by the emotional turbulence of being a teenager. He wants to live honestly as a young gay man in high school, but that is still not acceptable in Japanese society. Sora's world changes forever when he meets Mr. Amamiya, a middle-aged gentleman who is the owner and proprietor of a local coffee shop, and who is completely, unapologetically out as a gay man.

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Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Why you should try it: "One of the most popular fiction books of the year. Marcellus, the curmudgeonly giant Pacific octopus is a wonderful character voiced by Michael Urie in the audiobook, and the story of loss and regret resonated deeply in me. This book will stick with me for some time."—Ed, Adult Services Librarian

Description: After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her 18-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over 30 years ago. Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his 8 arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

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Adult fiction: Romance, lives & relationships

Can't Resist Her by Kianna Alexander

Why you should try it: "I'm a sucker for a good second chance romance."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian

Description: After years away from home, Summer Graves is back in Austin, Texas, to accept a new teaching position. Of all the changes to the old neighborhood, the most dispiriting one is the slated demolition of the high school her grandmother founded. There's no way she can let developers destroy her memories and her family legacy. On the architectural team revitalizing the neighborhood, hometown girl Aiko Holt is all about progress. Then she sees Summer again. Some things never change.

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The Mutual Friend by Carter Bays

Why you should try it: "Funny and fast-paced, this book kept my interest throughout all 480 of its pages. I loved the quirky characters and their chaotic and seemingly random (but ultimately not) experiences."—Ashley, Digital Engagement Coordinator

Description: Alice is 28 years old, grieving her mother, barely scraping by as a nanny, and freshly kicked out of her apartment. If she can just get her act together and sign up for the MCAT, she can start chasing her dream of becoming a doctor . . . but in the Age of Distraction, the distractions are so distracting. There's her tech millionaire brother's religious awakening. His picture-perfect wife's emotional breakdown. Her chaotic new roommate's thirst for adventure. And, of course, there's the biggest distraction of all: Love.

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You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Why you should try it: "Mostly set in an unnamed tropical paradise, this juicy, unapologetic, and bold novel is an intense and moving story of grief and love. I openly gasped halfway through and quickly devoured it."—Rose, Adult Services Librarian

Description: Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again. It's been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life and she's almost a new person now—an artist with her own studio and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it's time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene.

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Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club by Roselle Lim

Why you should try it: "I will read anything Roselle Lim writes, but this is her best yet. Have tissues ready!"—Jenna, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Newly minted professional matchmaker Sophie Go has returned to Toronto, her hometown, after spending three years in Shanghai. Her job is made quite difficult, however, when she is revealed as a fraud—she never actually graduated from matchmaking school.

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On Rotation by Shirlene Obuobi

Why you should try it: "A fun and thoughtful romcom that explores identity and first-generation immigrant experiences and expectations. The Chicago setting is accurately described and makes the reading experience a little more personal than stories set elsewhere."—Rose, Adult Services Librarian

Description: Ghanaian-American Angela Appiah has checked off all the boxes for the "Perfect Immigrant Daughter." Enroll in an elite medical school. Snag a suitable lawyer/doctor/engineer boyfriend. Surround self with a gaggle of successful and/or loyal friends. But then it quickly all falls apart: her boyfriend dumps her, she bombs the most important exam of her medical career, and her best friend pulls away. And her parents, whose approval seems to hinge on how closely she follows the path they chose, are a lot less proud of their daughter.

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Adult fiction: Mystery, history & sci-fi

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Why you should try it: "This book found me at the right time and was exactly what I needed. It is a fun, easy, cozy fantasy about building a coffee shop and creating a community. And really, we could all use a little more community care in our lives."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian

Description: After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time. The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first-ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success—not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

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Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett

Why you should try it: "A very good mystery/crime fiction that touches on relatable topics such as family, race, and class while having amazing storytelling. A page-turner that will keep you reading and is very relatable to social media."—Camayia, Materials Handling Supervisor

Description: No one bats an eye when a Black reality TV star is found dead—except her estranged half-sister, whose refusal to believe the official story leads her on a dangerous search for the truth.

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Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Why you should try it: "If you love movies and historical fiction, this novel will immediately capture you. Set in WWII between Italy and Los Angeles, the story centers around a movie studio run by European immigrants that suddenly becomes tasked with producing American war propaganda or else face imminent collapse. Elegant storytelling; I wished this book never ended."—Kay, Adult Services Library Assistant

Description: Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father's arrest. Fifteen years later, on the eve of America's entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart.

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Illuminations: Stories by Alan Moore

Why you should try it: "The renowned author of sophisticated comic books and the prose epic Jerusalem presents a collection of short stories that showcase his twisted yet compelling sensibility."—Kheir, Archivist

Description: In his first-ever short story collection, which spans 40 years of work, Alan Moore presents a series of wildly different and equally unforgettable characters who discover—and in some cases even make and unmake—the various uncharted parts of existence.

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The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

Why you should try it: The exciting conclusion to the Scholomance series. Magic School meets Eldrich Horrors! Satisfying and fresh, with relatable characters and situations."—Amy, Creative Technology Librarian

Description: The one thing you never talk about while you're in the Scholomance is what you'll do when you get out. Not even the richest enclaver would tempt fate that way. But it's all we dream about: the hideously slim chance we'll survive to make it out the gates and improbably find ourselves with a life ahead of us, a life outside the Scholomance halls. And now the impossible dream has come true. I'm out, we're all out—and I didn't even have to turn into a monstrous dark witch to make it happen.

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The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell

Why you should try it: "I found the poetic writing and emotional descriptions of storytelling utterly captivating!"—Christine, Patron Services Library Assistant

Description: Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.

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Adult nonfiction

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music by Tom Breihan

Why you should try it: "Want to impress your friends with random pop music trivia? Then this highly readable, very fun book is for you."—Kathy, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Music critic Tom Breihan's fascinating narrative of the history of popular music through the lens of game-changing number one singles from the Billboard Hot 100.

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A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing: A Memoir Across Three Continents by Mary-Alice Daniel

Why you should try it: "A mash-up of memoir and narrative nonfiction that explores identity in big and small ways and is probably the most beautifully written book I've read this year."—Kathy, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Mary-Alice Daniel's family moved from West Africa to England when she was a very young girl, leaving behind the vivid culture of her native land in the Nigerian savanna. They arrived to a blanched, cold world of prim suburbs and unfamiliar customs. So began her family's series of travels across three continents in search of places of belonging.

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How To Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning & Organizing by KC Davis

Why you should try it: "This is a very kind, supportive, and caring book! For me, it's helpful to reframe my thoughts as I live with chronic illness, but there are so many tips in there for people who just had babies, have families, work multiple jobs, etc. Plus, it's written by a neurodivergent author to best support neurodiverse people! Accessibility for the win."—Shelley, Children's Services Librarian

Description: If you're struggling to stay on top of your to-do list, you probably have a good reason: anxiety, fatigue, depression, ADHD, or lack of support. For therapist KC Davis, the birth of her second child triggered a stress-mess cycle. One life-changing realization restored her sanity—and the functionality of her home: You don't work for your home; your home works for you. In other words, messiness is not a moral failing.

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The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman

Why you should try it: "As a fan of Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, I couldn't wait to listen to this new work about my favorite decade, and it did not disappoint. A great read for history and pop culture lovers alike."—Ashley, Digital Engagement Coordinator

Description: A wise and funny reckoning with the decade that gave us slacker/grunge irony about the sin of trying too hard, during the greatest shift in human consciousness of any decade in American history.

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I Dream of Dinner (So You Don't Have to): Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes by Ali Slagle

Why you should try it: "A great cookbook to browse when you feel like you're in a cooking rut. Lots of recipe ideas and very straightforward recipes. Easy-to-find ones that use up pantry items as well."—Margita, Adult Services Librarian

Description: With minimal ingredients and maximum joy in mind, Ali Slagle's no-nonsense, completely delicious recipes are ideal for dinner tonight—and every single night.

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Goodbye, Again: Essays, Reflections & Illustrations by Jonny Sun

Why you should try it: "Unique, thoughtful, and beautifully illustrated. I didn't know I needed a book like this until I picked it up!"—Claire, Community Engagement Library Specialist

Description: A collection of touching and hilarious personal essays, stories, poems—covering topics such as mental health, happiness, and what it means to belong. The pieces range from long meditations on topics like loneliness and being an outsider, to short humor pieces, conversations, and memorable one-liners.

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It Came From the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror edited by Joe Vallese

Why you should try it: "This essay collection about queerness and the horror genre, specifically movies, is so engaging that I didn't want to put it down. As a certified scaredy cat, the fact that it also made me want to watch some scary movies makes this an A+ read."—Dontaná, Collection Management Librarian

Description: Through the lens of horror—from Halloween to Hereditary—queer and trans writers consider the films that deepened, amplified, and illuminated their own experiences.

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