Books

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Best Books I Read in 2021

It’s time once again to announce my favorite books of the year.

(I know it’s Wednesday but this still counts for Top Ten Tuesday.)

I was finally honest about my ultimate favorites.

These are the books I read in 2021 that I could not stop thinking about.

(You can find plenty of books I didn’t mention here in my Goodreads Choice Awards post.)

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

My library did a city-wide book club in February. They encouraged everyone to read Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn and discuss it on the library forums.

I hate group projects but I hate FOMO more, so I downloaded the e-book.

Love Lettering was my first romance novel of 2021 and the first proper romance I’d read since falling for last year’s Written in the Stars.

I’m a romance reader now and it’s this book’s fault!

I had my doubts in the beginning and the book still won me over. I thought the love story was so well done.

My desire for a physical copy is bordering on a need.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

How many times have I mentioned this book on my blog?

I just did a count and the answer is nine times.

I did not expect to like this book at all.

Every time I tried reading the plot synopsis, my eyes glazed over.

I decided to knock the book out in a weekend. It was under two hundred pages – why not?

It killed me.

Piranesi put difficult experiences into words. It offered a bittersweet resolution at a really difficult point of the pandemic. It is perfectly crafted and composed.

I understand now why so many people love it.

It is best to go in without any prior knowledge, so I won’t say anything else about it. Please, please read it.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell

(CW: death of a spouse, emotional abuse)

I AM OBSESSED. OBSESSED, I TELL YOU.

Winter’s Orbit is simultaneously distressing and comforting. Trust me on this.

The set-up is just so good. We get two leads with opposing personalities and social difficulties who are then forced into a political marriage. One is a semi-useless playboy and son of a war hero. The other was recently widowed.

This book had one of the best depictions of emotional abuse I’ve ever read. My hairs were on end THE ENTIRE TIME.

I love how soft and vulnerable the boys eventually allowed themselves to be. I want to give these characters a big ol hug. I can’t, so I’ve settled for hugging the book instead.

The author does neat things with gender in the book and the plot gets SURPRISINGLY INTENSE. I guess the plot synopsis does mention a murder investigation, but STILL.

I will not stop talking about this book.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

This book is pure magic.

One Last Stop was the first book I read in 2021 that I felt like rereading IMMEDIATELY after I finished.

I did reread it two months later and caught many more details the second time around. This book is so clever! The foreshadowing is especially good!

I wasn’t expecting the deep dive into queer history that came with August’s investigation. I think her various subplots resolved perfectly.

It would be incorrect to say that I cried while reading this.

I wept.

Multiple times.

Because of One Last Stop, I aspire to find my passion while smelling like pancakes.

The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

(CW: murder, child sexual abuse)

Libro.FM sent me the link to a quiz titled “Your Next Audiobook for Pride Month.”

I took it while experiencing a rare craving for nonfiction and received a recommendation for The Fact of a Body.

I like true crime, though I don’t read it much, and was intrigued when I learned the book included descriptions of the author’s past sexual abuse. I wanted to read a survivor’s take on law through this specific court case.

I was absolutely on the edge of my seat with this book. I said in a previous post that this book radicalized me and I meant it. This book changed my entire perspective on the legal system.

It’s hard to describe this book in a way that does it justice. It reads like a thriller while honoring the victims. It’s honest about the difficulties of trauma and identity. It presents the many complexities of the human experience and juxtaposes them with a legal system that fails to embody this nuance.

I listened to the audiobook and the ending made me scream out loud.

I am in awe of Marzano-Lesnevich’s talent, dedication, and research.

I can’t wait for their forthcoming memoir.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

I rolled my eyes when I saw this book on several 2020 Best Of lists.

I’d read 50 pages of A Court of Thorns and Roses, thank you very much, and I didn’t even like them. I also knew that Sarah J. Maas was “problematic” and therefore unworthy.

Then my coworker got me into ACOTAR, which led to me buying House of Earth and Blood and preordering its sequel.

This book made me remember why I love urban fantasy.

I think every part of it works. The world and the lore are neat, enough so that I wanted to live in it myself.

I love so much that the most important relationship in Bryce’s life was platonic. Danika was her person; when she lost Danika, I felt it.

In fact, the grief, trauma, and mental health content are so raw that I have questions. The pain in this book feels genuine.

The scene that touched me most is a massive spoiler, so I can’t talk about it. I’ll just say that the depiction of sacrifice and enduring love in the climax absolutely destroyed me.

I mentioned said scene to my aforementioned coworker and we both started crying.

This book is a weeper and I am beyond invested

If you see me googling “Crescent city tattoos,” look the other way.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

This is hands down the best fantasy book I read all year.

How do I even talk about this?? It just works. All of it works.

I loved the weaving in of both folklore and history. Where historical references in some epic fantasy feel stale, the ones here felt especially relevant.

Early on in the book, our characters encounter an absolutely terrifying monster that invaded my search history and kept me up at night. Google the lidérc. Know my pain.

You must have expected this, surely: my absolute favorite part of the book was the slow burn enemies to lovers romance between pagan Évike and secret prince Bárány Gáspár.

Secret royalty? Two outcasts banding together against a corrupt and oppressive monarchy? The persistence of hope in a harsh landscape? I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF THIS.

The Wolf and the Woodsman really did give me hope. It was and is a light in a dark place.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Obviously one of my favorite books of the year was modern AU Reylo fanfiction with a demisexual lead.

Some fanfictions don’t translate well to novel format. THIS ONE DID.

I HATE the Fake Dating trope and The Love Hypothesis STILL won me over. IMPRESSIVE.

This book also alerted me to the importance of the Grumpy/Sunshine trope. I knew I liked it before; now I know to appreciate it.

I have so many feelings I don’t know how to talk about them. I mean it when I say I couldn’t put this book down. The parts about Olive’s self-doubt really hit me and the on-the-page demisexual rep made cheer.

IF I LOVED THIS LESS, I COULD TALK ABOUT IT MORE.

Just know that One Last Stop was my favorite romance of the year until I read this book. It’s the best.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

(CW: depression)

You read what I just wrote, correct? That The Love Hypothesis knocked out One Last Stop to become my favorite romance novel of the year?

The Charm Offensive KOed The Love Hypothesis.

I didn’t think it was possible either.

The Charm Offensive saw how strongly I felt about The Love Hypothesis and said, “What if I QUADRUPLED those feelings?”

Later, it said, “I lied. Those feelings will be manifested TENFOLD.” And then they WERE.

I rarely see romances where one or both of the leads struggles with mental illness and their love interest handles it well.

While I haven’t worked in entertainment, I have (like Dev) been in environments that demanded unfailing loyalty and drained me of all energy. When Dev experienced a depressive episode, I teared up thinking about times I couldn’t get out of bed.

Dev works really hard to get healthy and the book makes it clear that this effort, while valuable, is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT AND TIME-CONSUMING.

I usually don’t get to see this in books and I APPRECIATED IT.

All of the above is true and also this book is hilarious? I don’t understand how it manages to be both funny and devastating.

So yes, The Charm Offensive was my favorite romance. I hope it makes even more people sob in the future.

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller

Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller

Lulu Miller was right.

I can’t believe she was right.

Fish DON’T exist.

I know. I had a hard time accepting it, too.

I don’t know how, but I was somehow convinced to read a natural history biography about an icthyologist. And I loved it.

The comfort this book gave me cannot be overstated. This year was really hard for me. Life felt even more disordered than usual.

Because of Why Fish Don’t Exist, I’m facing down a world where nothing matters yet everything does. Chaos reigns and good things happen. Nothing we experience can be fully understood or neatly categorized. In spite of it all, there is hope.

My friend Matt can attest to me screaming about a feature of the audiobook. I won’t spoil it for anyone; all I will say is I was a mess once I heard it.

This might be my favorite book that I read all year.

IT IS DONE.

THOSE WERE THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2021.

PHEW.

I can’t wait to see everyone else’s posts.

It was a hard year and a good year for reading.

Happy New Year, all.

5 thoughts on “TOP TEN TUESDAY: Best Books I Read in 2021”

      1. It’s a companion novel with new characters in another part of the same universe… so we don’t know if our fav couple will have a cameo but I surely hope they do 😊😊

        Like

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