A plague-ravaged world bent by time travel. A serial killer counting down the minutes on death row. Two Jedi at odds working together to solve a mystery. A wife helping her husband die with dignity. These things have little in common, except they're all subjects of some of the best books of the year so far.
We're only about halfway through 2022, but the year has already delivered an embarrassment of literary riches: Jennifer Weiner wrote the ultimate beach read just in time for summer break; Emily St. John Mandel expanded our minds with a time-bending novel that made us feel smarter for having read it; and Amy Bloom broke our hearts with a memoir about her husband's assisted suicide.
They are among the nine books this year USA TODAY critics gave perfect ★★★★ (out of four) reviews. Here's the complete list of this year's best reads so far:
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'The Summer Place'
By Jennifer Weiner
From the master of the summer beach read comes the story of a family in all its messy glory forced to face its issues – secrets, misunderstandings, regrets and unhealed wounds – as a Cape Cod beach house wedding looms. This sweet summer treat hits the spot on a warm summer day. "With its Cape Cod setting that evokes seashells, cool water, melting ice cream and summer bliss, it's sure to be the must-have beach bag item this year," our critic writes.
'Star Wars: Brotherhood'
By Mike Chen
Set shortly after the events of "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones," "Brotherhood" stars Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker investigating a devastating explosion on Cato Neimoidia. With peace on the brink, the quarrelsome master and apprentice must stand together as brothers. The book came out just in time to whet fans' appetites before the Disney series "Obi-Wan Kenobi" premiered in May, and our critic called it "one of the best 'Star Wars' novels to date."
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'Sea of Tranquility'
By Emily St. John Mandel
The author of “Station Eleven” and “The Glass Hotel” delivered a fantastical new novel that sweeps across time and space, taking readers from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a lunar colony 500 years later. "'Sea of Tranquility' is full of grandeur but without even a whiff of grandiosity," our critic raved. "It’s transporting and brilliant and generous, and I haven’t ever read anything quite like it."
'Don't Know Tough'
By Eli Cranor
Billy Lowe is the star running back for the high school football team in Denton, Arkansas. When his troubled home life causes him to act out on the field, head coach Trent Powers is determined to save him. Think “Friday Night Lights” with a Southern Gothic twist. Our critic writes: “'Don’t Know Tough' takes the adage of “Faith, Family, and Football” and reveals it to be a vicious canard, or at least a decent cover for the common failings of god and men, the violence on the field an acceptable proxy for the violence that exists behind closed doors. A major work from a bright, young talent."
By Karen Joy Fowler
The PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” wows with a novel about the family behind one of American history’s most notorious figures: John Wilkes Booth. This snapshot of a troubled family in a country in its own throes of change offers difficult insights into our current moment. “'Booth' doesn’t hold anyone in judgment; like all the best literature, it seeks to better understand the human heart in all its flawed complexity," reads our review. "It’s a haunting book, not just for all its literal ghosts, but for its suggestion that those ghosts still have not been exorcised from this country."
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'In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss'
By Amy Bloom
Bloom’s life, and that of her husband, Brian, was changed forever when an MRI confirmed the worst: Brian had Alzheimer’s. The couple then made the decision to go to Dignitas, an assisted-dying facility in Switzerland. "Bloom, a psychotherapist as well as an author, brings to her heart-rending task the skills of both professions: a clinician’s intimate knowledge of diseases of the brain and a novelist’s intuitive understanding of the human heart," our review reads.
'Notes on an Execution'
By Danya Kukafka
The author of “Girl in Snow” returned with an empathetic and gripping story about a serial killer on death row primarily told from the perspectives of the women in his life as the clock ticks to his execution. Our critic writes, “'Notes on an Execution' is a career-defining novel – powerful, important, intensely human and filled with a unique examination of tragedy, one where the reader is left with a curious emotion: hope."
'A Thousand Steps'
By T. Jefferson Parker
In 1968 Laguna Beach, California, 16-year-old Matt Anthony’s big sister has gone missing. The cops mark her as a runaway hippie, but Matt knows better, especially after another missing girl is found dead on the beach. Our critic writes, "This twisty tale of a teen's desperate plan to save his sister and right his off-keel family is a compelling coming-of-age thriller that will entrance you with its ’60s vibe and backdrop and captivate you with its engaging storytelling and a believable cast of characters – including one heroic kid you can’t help but root for."
By Hanya Yanagihara
From the author of the celebrated “A Little Life” came a new epic spanning three centuries – with a trio of stories set in 1893, 1993 and 2093 – about life, love and the American experiment. "'To Paradise' is a novel of the highest order," our critic writes. "Yanagihara writes with elegance, evoking emotion and rendering believable characters who move the plot. Her perceptive eye is evident in the three separate settings, placing the reader in each time frame through multiple narratives, which she orchestrates with great acuity."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best books of 2022 so far: These titles got perfect 4-star reviews