My Very Favorite Reads of 2021
It's that time of year when even bloggers who have let their blog languish a bit (ahem!), feel reinvigorated to share their favorite reads of the past year. I certainly had some hits and misses in the 135 books I read this year. As you scan this list, make a note of any that sound different, appealing, or intriguing. Read them. Let me know what you think! Here goes - my favorite reads of the year......
I started the year off with a bang - Of the 12 books I read, I loved the story of Circe. Review here. (same author as Song of Achilles which I also loved) As a goddess, she's banned to a remote island and finds a way to make a content life. The Huntress (Review here) is an excellent WWII historical with a split timeline. Strong women characters populate this can't-put-it-down book.
I read 12 books (and 1 DNF) in February and The Lager Queen of Minnesota was a surprise enjoyment full of family dynamics as estranged sisters struggle through relationships and their lives. Review here. Fire Keeper's Daughter is a stunning bit of storytelling that I couldn't stop recommending - part coming of age, part mystery, mostly excellent. Review here. The Farseer Trilogy (Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest) is a series recommended by my son and I enjoyed it so much. Lots of cool magic, great character development over the series as he goes from a child to an old man. Definitely worth a read! Review here of books 2 & 3.
I read another 12 books in March (with 1 more DNF) and the best was another surprise for me. I'd been avoiding this book because it just didn't sound like something I'd like. I was wrong. But Mexican Gothic is delightfully gothic, complete with spooky house, creepy people, a couple of twists, and a likeable, bold, intrepid young lady protagonist. So good!
I love a good courtroom drama and Steve Cavanagh is excellent at that. And the starring lawyer is a former con man gone straight but not above using some of his old tricks to his advantage - and he only defends people he believes are really innocent; novel concept! The Defense is the first in the series and grabbed me from the start.
I finished 14 books in April and had 2 more DNF books - the month brought me The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This one has been all over bookstagram and the internet for awhile - now I understand why. A unique concept and Schwab added a twist to the "I want to live forever" idea by making the heroine not memorable - not to ANYone she ever met. Just imagine how difficult it would be live your life over hundreds of years but no one remembers you. And yet..... intriguing. Review here. Crooked Heart is a historical fiction with heart set in WWII London - it's about survival and found family. Emotional and satisfying. Review here.
May was a good month for reading. I finished another 12 books (and 1 DNF). The Scent Keeper has the most beautiful writing - the descriptions of scents and fragrances is amazing.... how do you describe a scent? Bauermeister does it! Then, City of Girls is an entirely different type of enjoyment. A historical fiction story about a woman in NYC in the 1940s, living her very unconventional life and living it fully! It feels like early feminism steps as the main character looks back on her life. Finally, One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow is a slower paced historical book set in 1870 Wyoming. Two neighboring families lose the man of the house and the wife and children have to carry on the farming and animal and family care through harsh conditions. Betrayal, bitterness, friendship, affinity for nature with a magical touch, all in the harshest surroundings make for a memorable story. Mini reviews for these books here.
We Begin at the End is a story of found family and I've 'found' that I really enjoy that theme. Sometimes lost or broken people find just the right person (people) to become their family and it's often a stronger unit than one from blood. In this case a 40 something town sheriff and a 13 year old tough-as-nails girl bond over the need to protect her mom and little brother. This isn't totally a feel good story in the traditional way, but it's got lots of feels.
I added 11 books to my annual total in June.
Recommended by a friend, I was pleasantly surprised by West With Giraffes. Set in 1938, it's the "inspired by true events" story of the first giraffes imported to the U.S. and their trip across country to the San Diego Zoo. An aging zookeeper hires a teenage boy to drive the rig with the giraffes and the story is filled with the adventures and misadventures of their trip - remember, there was no interstate in 1938! A quick, satisfying read.
City of the Lost is the first in a series and I admit, I jumped down that rabbit hole in a quick minute and read all 6 books this year and I'm eagerly awaiting next year's installment! (Review here) I enjoy mysteries and detective stories - what makes this series unique is the setting - it's a tiny town in the remote Yukon where people go to "disappear" and live off the grid. No electricity, no TV, internet, phones, etc. It's a fascinating setting to have crimes occur and the sheriff and detective are excellent characters. If you're ready for a new crime-fighting series, I highly recommend this one.
I completed 8 books and had 1 DNF.
I picked up Hamnet at the library because I'd seen it all over the internet and I thought I 'should' give it a shot; plus, it won a lot of awards. I'm not a Shakespeare fan, so I had reservations. Well. This book blew me away. It's really about the marriage and children of Shakespeare (he's actually never mentioned by name I realized!). It's truly historical fiction (very loosely based on the bare facts available) at its best! And I have to tell you, there's one of the best written, saddest ever scenes ever written in this book - I sobbed! Review here
Wow - a whopping 14 books completed!
Sharks in the Time of Saviors is set in Hawaii and about family dynamics when one of the kids is viewed as extraordinary/magical. The story follows the 3 siblings from childhood, through college and to adulthood as they deal with the impact of the imbalance of attention from the parents. Fascinating study of family dynamics.
Ten books completed in September.
The Printed Letter Bookshop is another great relationship/friendship story of 3 women drawn together to save a small bookstore when the owner becomes ill. Each of the women has baggage, of course, and they are all loners for one reason or another, AND, they're 30, 40, 50 something, so each at very different stages of their life. The friendship and support that gradually develops is told well and believably.
As fall grabs hold, I finished 9 books and had 1 DNF. Review here
Holidays slowed my reading pace a bit and so did reading Dune - a whopper page count book! But I finished 8 books.
N.K. Jemisin has become one of my favorite authors and this urban fantasy, The City We Became, is a mind-trip! It's built on the premise that every city is alive and can be personified by a single living person. As the city "becomes", evil is lurking to try to prevent it. This is the birth of NYC and since it has boroughs, there's a person for each - a person whose character embodies the core of the city. I got definite Stephen King vibes from the evil entity ..... just sayin'.
In March I loved the first in a legal series, The Defense. Th1rt3en is the 2nd and it's equally as good. This one revolves around the lengths a killer goes to actually get on a jury to convict a person accused of the crime he actually committed. Again, con-man turned lawyer, struggles to figure out the crime, the criminal, and how to catch him. Good stuff!
Name of the Devil is the second in the Jessica Blackwood series. I read the first one years ago, so was really reading this one blind, but I know I enjoy Andrew Mayne's writing and characters, so I jumped in. Blackwood is a FBI agent in a special team and she has an amazing intuition about crime scenes and a tenacity in following through on all clues. This is a twisty multi-murder mystery that gets confusing sometimes but Mayne has a great technique to lay out the clues AND make it feel natural to the story. Plus there's a cool tech-y aspect to the crime solving that really caught my imagination.
December found me reading voraciously again as I completed 13 books and had my last DNF. (A total of 8 DNF books for the year.)
And that's a wrap. Twenty-one recommendations from the 135 books I read this year. A variety of genres, writing styles, themes, and pace. I loved the variety of books I read this year and hope you can find something here worth exploring for yourself. Happy Reading!