Friday, December 31, 2021

Favorite Reads of 2021

It's that time of year again! I love seeing everyone's favorites read of the year.

Some stats before we get to my favorites:

I read 109 books this year. It's definitely less than previous years, but I feel pretty good about it because I had a lot on my plate this year.

I gave 20 books 5-stars this year, which is pretty consistent with other years. The 5-stars reflect not only how objectively "good" I think a book is, but also how much I enjoyed it. Some books got 5-stars because they were a good time.

As in previous years, my consumption of audiobook is way up and reading with my eyes is way down. I listened to 87 audiobooks and only read 22 books with my eyes. A new full-time job is definitely a factor in those numbers. 

I read 66 YA and Middle-grade books. Those include the books I listened to with my kids this year, as they too have become big audiobook fans. The rest of the books I read were adult non-fiction and fiction. You'll see titles marketed to younger readers mixed with titles marketed to adults in my favorites. 

Generally I stick to 12 favorites books of the year, but this year I decided to throw in two extras and make it 14. It's my blog, and I can do what I want, and I didn't want to leave any of these books out even if they couldn't all be in the graphic. This year, all of my favorites are 2021 publications, except the book club books.

 And so, without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2021 in a variety of categories.

Favorite YA Contemporary: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner
Cash and Delaney live in a small Appalachian town in Tennessee. It's the type of place that can trap you with its lack of opportunities. However, Delaney is smart and ambitious, and when she discovers a new algae with antibiotic properties, she secures a full ride scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut for both herself and Cash. Another beautiful book from Jeff Zentner! This book is raw and beautiful and clever and full of poetic observations about the world.

Favorite Genre-Bender: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
This is a lovely nesting egg of a book. Historical, contemporary, and futuristic. In each timeline, the reader follows characters for whom a little-known Ancient Greek text called "Cloud Cuckoo Land" means a lot. Seeing the pieces come together was the most rewarding part of this book. As I got closer to the conclusion, more and more puzzle pieces started clicking into place, and it was so impressive how it all came together.

Favorite Pandemic Book: The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold
One of the best books I read in 2021. This book is so weird in all the right ways. Set in a world that is decimated by the fly flu, Nico has to leave the safety of the Farmhouse. I think it's best described as a mash-up between Station Eleven and Recursion, but I worry that even saying that is too much. It has beautiful writing and that contemplative tone that I am always searching for in a book.

Favorite Historical Fiction: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Believe it or not, this was the first book by Kristin Hannah that I've read. It's already not the last. This book was harrowing. The dust bowl scenes, especially. I was very into this book. I even looked up which of my friends had read it to see who I could talk to about it. And when that happens you know it needs to end up on the favorite list.

Favorite New Book in a Beloved Series: Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
A favorite in a list of favorites. This new addition to the Graceling series is perfection. I love Queen Bitterblue most of all, and I'm so happy she got another story. The new land is fascinating, and the writing is exquisite. Also the cover is gorgeous. 

Favorite Nonfiction Book Club Book: They Called Me Number One by Bev Sellars
For a while I was in three book clubs this year, which made for a lot of options when it came to determining my favorite book club books of 2021. Rather than limit to just one, I decided to have a nonfiction and a fiction category. Bev Sellars was forced to attend the residential schools for Indigenous Americans in Canada. She writes of the legacy of trauma the schools wrought on her family members and community. An important read. 

Favorite Fiction Book Club Book: All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner
I'm so glad that book club brought this gem to my attention. It's the story of an old man and his neighbors. Behind this seemingly simple premise is a book full of deep philosophical questions about life and death. It is incredibly well written and made for an excellent discussion.

Series That Brought Me the Most Joy: The Simon Snow Series by Rainbow Rowell
No other series brought be quite as much pure joy and as many dopey smiles this year as this one did. It started with the publication of the last book in the series, Any Way the Wind Blows, which sent me down the Simon Snow rabbit hole. I reread all the books, included Fangirl, and just let myself lean into fangirling all over the series.

Favorite Retelling: Gilded by Marissa Meyer
This novels is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling mixed with the Erlking legend. Serilda was blessed by the god of lies. At least, that's what her father has always told her. She is a natural story teller, but her stories tend to get her into trouble. But nothing compares to the trouble she faces when her story catches the attention of the Erlking. This book is so magical. Full of stories and romance and danger and magic. 

Favorite YA Historical Fiction: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Set in San Francisco in 1954, Lily Hu and Kathleen Miller are high school students who begin frequenting a lesbian bar called The Telegraph Club. This is great YA historical fiction. The setting was so well done, and the characters felt authentic to the time and place

Favorite Mental Health Rep: Yolk by Mary. H.K. Choi
Mary H.K. Choi is so good at writing damaged characters. This book features a set of sisters who are each damaged in their own ways. The sister relationship in this book is so good. Jayne and June both love and need each other and also drive each other mad. I don't want to give too much away, but both Jayne and June have health issues that they are not dealing with in the healthiest of ways. They are also struggling to negotiate the relationship they have with their immigrant parents and some lingering childhood trauma. As gritty and raw and fantastic as Mary H.K. Choi's other books. 

Most Killer Cliffhanger: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Can my review for this book just be "AHHHHH!"? That cliffhanger was so killer. I read A Deadly Education at the beginning of the year, pushed it hard on everyone I knew, and then waited on pins and needles for the sequel. I love everything about this series (expect maybe the killer cliffhangers). The characters, the world building. It's just all so much fun.

This book was such a delight. I loved being back with the Montague siblings, and it was so heartwarming to see them come together as a family. This book could have also claimed the "Favorite Mental Health Rep" slot as Adrian is both anxious and obsessive. It was tough at times to be inside someone who is suffering as much as Adrian is, but it is also truly gratifying to see Adrian come to accept and love himself and realize he doesn't have to be "fixed." As much as I adore Monty and Felicity, Adrian may be the most lovable of all the Montagues. 

Favorite YA Thriller: The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky
I enjoyed this YA thriller so much! Rachel is a new student at an elite New York prep school, and she's a bit lost. Then she discovers a secret club that loves horror movies and designs pranks to scare their classmates, and she thinks she's found her people. I want a sequel to this so badly.

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