The 10 Best California Books of 2022

“Bad Thoughts: Stories” by Nada Alic

In Alic’s debut story collection, sunny facades belie strange dark interiors, our reviewer writes:

“The stories feature a privileged millennial milieu in Los Angeles with all its carefully observed trappings — neutral linens at a baby shower, destination bachelorette weekends, social media obsessions, alternative wellness practices and a chic, spare loft ‘furnished with gray modular furniture resembling life-size Lego pieces.’”

“Heartbroke” by Chelsea Bieker

The Times called this short story collection a “bold, uncanny ode to California’s Central Valley.” From the review:

“Bieker offers an unsentimental view of the hardscrabble lives of the white working class in a less romanticized region of California. In ‘Raisin Man,’ a father tells his son, ‘God came down and ran His mighty hand on the land, blessed this place.’ The boy retorts: ‘My ma says it’s the deepest hole in hell.’ Bieker’s lucid, compassionate prose makes room for both visions, and more.”

“Mecca” by Susan Straight

Straight, who lives in Riverside, explores inland Southern California, including the desert town of Mecca on which this novel centers, our reviewer writes:

“‘Mecca,’ like much of Straight’s writing, is a love song for a place and its people. She writes lyrically about workers pollinating date palms in the groves as if it were a cosmic dance: ‘It was magic out here, even in the heat. Giant sweeps of golden strands feathered with tiny blooms, four feet long. Like fantastic brooms and the gods could sweep the sky.’”

“Nightcrawling” by Leila Mottley

Mottley’s novel follows Kiara, a teenager, as she tries to make a life in Oakland, “where tech offices and Ubers and yoga studios and cafes and bartenders with all the same tattoos proliferate” as the Bay Area tech boom has flooded the city with money and power, our reviewer writes:

“There are no jobs here for Kiara, who was raised in these streets and in the dealers’ apartments that used to fill them, who uses the yellow pages to find a job because she can’t afford a smartphone or internet.”

“Yerba Buena” by Nina LaCour

LaCour, known for her young adult novels, made her adult debut with this tale of two California women finding themselves, and each other. From our review:

“The book’s title, which translates to good herb, comes from the native flora of California, and the stories of both characters start there, too: Sara in a redwood grove, finding first love with her best friend amid the ancient trunks, and Emilie in a school garden, seeking refuge from a tumultuous home life in the stalks of verbena and mint.”

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