Over the past year, Alta Journal’s books editor, David L. Ulin, and contributing reviewers weighed in on some of the best literature to come out of the Golden State in 2022. From informative guides to fantastic romantic fiction, these books heightened the literary tastes of California, and our contributors were there to tell us why with Alta’s weekly Monday Book Review. (Sign up to receive the weekly email.) Here are the top-10 book reviews we selected from the past year; they might just encourage you to add to your end-of-year reading list.

Mark Athitakis reviews Antoine Wilson’s Mouth to Mouth

January 10, 2022

Noah Stone

A confessional story that blossoms into an art world drama is how Mark Athitakis presents Antoine Wilson’s third novel, released in January 2022. Athitakis highlights the moral questions that propel the novel as the atmosphere of its world fluctuates compellingly.


Andrew Tonkovich reviews Elaine Lewinnek, Gustavo Arellano, and Thuy Vo Dang’s A People’s Guide to Orange County

February 14, 2022

University of California Press

Fascinating and previously unheard microhistories of neighborhoods big and small help to uncover this oft-misunderstood California county in A People’s Guide to Orange County, according to Andrew Tonkovich.


Heather Scott Partington reviews Susan Straight’s Mecca

March 14, 2022

Felisha Carrasco

Language and the depths of the lives Susan Straight succeeds in making full on the page are what Heather Scott Partington focuses on in her gorgeous review of a novel that ruminates on people and space.


Anita Felicelli reviews Melissa Chadburn’s A Tiny Upward Shove

April 11, 2022

Jaimie Sarra

Anita Felicelli points out the visceral language that keeps readers engaged in the most challenging of scenes and images in Melissa Chadburn’s profound debut, propelling the novel toward new heights.


M.T. Hartnell reviews Greg Sarris’s Becoming Story: A Journey Among Seasons, Places, Trees, and Ancestors

May 2, 2022

Heyday Books

M.T. Hartnell highlights the multilayered approach Greg Sarris brings to his memoir as he weaves his own story with those of the people, lands, and trees that came before him.


J. David Gonzalez reviews Fernando A. Flores’s Valleyesque

May 9, 2022


The gorgeous and surrealist images that fill Fernando A. Flores’s story collection Valleyesque create moving and vulnerable tales. J. David Gonzalez picks up on this and gives due credit to Flores’s inspiring imagination.


David L. Ulin reviews Lacy M. Johnson and Cheryl Beckett’s More City Than Water: A Houston Flood Atlas

June 20, 2022

University of Texas Press

Alta’s books editor, David L. Ulin, calls to the beauty of the community, history, and memories that water brought to the city of Houston, as well as the inequities and disasters it yielded. Questions of care propel this gathering of essays, interviews, and maps.


Jackie DesForges reviews Anna Dorn’s Exalted

July 11, 2022

Unnamed Press

Identity is the theme of Exalted, by Anna Dorn, as Jackie DesForges sees it. DesForges writes a review almost as fun and compelling as she makes Dorn’s astrologically inspired novel sound.


Lynell George reviews Laura Warrell’s Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm

October 3, 2022

Rachael Warecki

Journeys and jazz swirl around one another in Laura Warrell’s novel about love, family, hurt, and salvation. Warrell writes her prose like music, Lynell George points out, creating extraordinary themes and motifs.


José Vadi reviews Hua Hsu’s Stay True

October 17, 2022

Devlin Claro

José Vadi’s review of Hua Hsu’s intimate memoir pulls out the insecurities and anxieties of creating and maintaining friendships present in the book. Vadi reflects on the closeness and distance explored in this homage to Berkeley in the ’90s and to a dear friend.