The Year in Reading: Best Books of 2021

4:49 PM

I know what you're thinking: long time no post. I'll spare you the theatricals but, guess who's back-ish? Life is chaotic. We are just a few months over the one year mark of me not updating Booked J. And what a weird year it has been. I thought 2020 was a hellacious fever dream of a year but 2021 really said, "Hold my beer." From the good things, like going back to school for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and losing 70 lbs., to the bad things, such as my Grandmother's passing in December or the non-cancerous ovarian cysts I had in the spring, 2021 was truly a ride

The good news? You'll have to pry my books from my cold dead hands. I can only hope that the universe doesn't see that and say, "Challenge accepted." That being said, though the year was an eventful one--I still was able to get some reading done and fell, as always, in love with the word's of another. Usually, my best of lists focus only on recently released novels but in 2021's list I am including books that were also just new-to-me. 

Let's dive into it, shall we?

You know it's going to be a good reading year one several of your favourite authors have new books coming out. One Last Stop was technically a 2020 read due to the ARC I was sent towards the end of that year but I couldn't not mention it. In my defense, I did reread it in 2021. So, it totally counts. We all know how much Cassandra Clare's Shadowhunters novels mean to me so it will come as a shock to absolutely no one that Chain of Iron was one of my most anticipated reads in 2021 and a favourite. 
After Brittany recommended The Midnight Library, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. The experience of reading this gem by Matt Haig was akin to my experiences reading Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, and The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern--it immediately felt like home and as if it had been written for me. Catching Fireflies, the latest by my lovely friend and fellow Instapoet Jessyca Thibault, is simply one of the best poetry collections of the last few years, As always, she nails her signature prose with so much emotion it's impossible to put Catching Fireflies down.
I found Saman A.W. Khan's Voice Notes I Never Sent You by complete accident via Instagram. No, not accident. Fate. The million dollar question on your mind is likely, "Is it as beautiful as its cover?" The answer is yes. You won't regret picking up this one. Susanna Clarke's writing is always an indulgent, lose-yourself-to-the-pages-of-a-book, type of magic and Piranesi, though complex, is definitely a highlight. While it won't be for everyone, it's a stunning and quick read that will leave you feeling strongly about it one way or another.   
I don't know if this is an accurate assumption but Honey Girl is one of the most underrated romances of 2021. Granted, my year wasn't spent keeping an eye on what was hot or not in the book world. Outside of Booktok/Tiktok, I felt like Honey Girl simply didn't receive as much love as it should have and I'm going to stand by this statement. I adored it. Speaking of adored: Good Omens. Enough said. 

When things started to get tough for me last year, in terms of my health, I went through a massive poetry binge. Jennae Cecelia has always been a go-to for me and both The Moon Will Shine For Us Too and The Sun Will Rise and So Will We were fantastic. It was easy to burn through both in a single sitting. 

Many of my friends on Booktok/Tiktok had me hyped to read The Priory of the Orange Tree and OH MY GOSH, it did not disappoint. Samantha Shannon's beloved fantasy novel may be a commitment, but it's the very one you should absolutely aim for. Another new-to-me poet, thanks to Jessyca Thibault (!), Alannah Radburn is pure brilliance in the form of prose. I binged most of her collections last summer and each one was better than the last.  
Every Word You Cannot Say just hit all the right marks for me in terms of prose that I needed in the moment I first read. I didn't expect to love it quite like I did, but Iain S. Thomas really did THAT with this collection and I can't stress how much I adore it. Meanwhile, if you follow me on Tiktok, you know that half of my personality in 2020 was based on the fact that I am officially an Alexandria Bellefleur stan and Written in the Stars is now the first romance novel to tie fully with the many Krista and Becca Ritchie books. Bellefleur continues to own me with Hang the Moon and the third book in the series, out this week, titled Count Your Lucky Stars
The Atlas Six was one of THE books on Booktok last year. Even I wasn't immune to the hype, despite the fact that I basically ghosted a platform of 35k. (I'm sorry! I'm going to make an effort to post more this year!) Olivie Blake is definitely a voice to look out for and The Atlas Six is pure dark academia and fantasy goodness, I can definitely see why it's been as hyped as it is. And Maureen Johnson's Truly Devious series continued with The Box in the Woods. I was hesitant about this one, even though I positively adore Maureen Johnson's writing and have never been steered wrong by her before (well, minus the fact that I'm STILL WAITING ON the next Shades of London book) but it was better than I'd ever hoped for. So fun!

It's a truth universally acknowledged that if Grady Hendrix writes a book, Jessica Beckett will be buying it. It took me a very long time to get around to reading The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires but it was SO worth the wait. Campy horror is my absolute favourite and who does it better than Hendrix? While his latest release, The Final Girl Support Group, from last year didn't necessarily live up to my expectations, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires did. Next up, I feel like in terms of great author binges, last year was Olivie Blake's year. Alone With You in the Ether was phenomenal; beautifully written, very character driven, and set in Chicago. I couldn't not love it. Blake's writing is irresistible.  
I swear I didn't plan this but Riley Sager and Ruth Ware are two authors I have SERIOUS hit or miss problems with. In the case of Sager's The Last Time I Lied and Ware's The Death of Mrs. Westaway, it's safe to say that I adored both. I devoured both on separate summer days and they certainly hit the spot when it came to captivating mysteries. I loved, loved, loved these two.

Not a Happy Family was a massive surprise for me. I expected to enjoy it to a degree but didn't think I'd love it. Fresh of the heels of my thrillers/mysteries binge in the summertime, Shari Lapena's latest kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Once autumn hit, and I was back in school, I ended up caving and finally picked up books by Eve Babitz and Joan Didion. Of the books by Babitz I have read so far, Black Swans was my absolutely favourite. It was sharp, had a nice bite of humour and honesty to it, and was smooth to read. I definitely understand the iconic status. (Rest in Peace, Eve.) 

I might be cheating with Once Upon a Broken Heart because I can't remember if I finished it at the start of 2022 or the end of 2021. All I know is I STARTED it in 2021, so it totally counts. We all know that Caraval is a favourite series of mine; Once Upon a Broken Heart is a great follow-up series for fans of that world and newer readers. Stephanie Garber's writing is pure magic and I really enjoyed it. As for Lifelines, Leana Wen, MD. provides one of the best non-fiction releases of 2021 and that's all I will say on that topic.

Last but certainly not least, Joan Didion holds the title for all time favourite, new-to-me, non-series installment, of the year. It's easy to see why The White Album is such a classic and a staple on most literary shelves. Didion was every bit as extraordinary as everyone made her out to be. The White Album was truly stunning and I annotated the hell out of my copy. And while I can definitely see the criticism of Sally Rooney's Normal People, there was so much about this novel that I genuinely loved. It was slow-paced but thoughtful. Melancholic and sweet. I'll gladly read more of Rooney's work in the future, even if the plotlines are minimal.

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