Though it sometimes feels like we never quite left 2020, it is somehow the beginning of 2022, making it time to look back at the best, the worst and the sometimes weird of my 2021 reading. I read 115 books this year, down from the high numbers I did a few years ago but comparable to recent years – and considering I also had a baby in March, we’ll call that good!
1) Best of…
I’ve been splitting my “Best of” books for the past several years, so that I can highlight the ones that were best in very specific ways.
1A) Best Premise: Invictus by Ryan Graudin – Do premises get better than time traveling thieves who are jumping through time to steal artifacts history records as lost? Amazing idea.
1B) Best World Building: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers – I thoroughly enjoy this series, and this book in particular created a fascinating world – though literally not a world, as it’s set almost entirely on a fleet of spaceships. It’s almost all world building, since it’s mostly people going about their lives, and it was so interesting to see how their lives work and society is structured in a culture aboard a space fleet.
1C) Best Romance: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Lovely, lyrical book with an excellent romance despite it moving fast (not usually my thing). The second book in the duology trended very dark for my taste, but the first one, and its romance, were a delight. And the second one was good – just dark!
1D) Best Characters: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – If I was going to do a single Best of 2021 book, this would be the one. Absolutely, amazingly good, a beautiful found-family story that’s touching and funny and says important things too. And the characters really made the book. I read this in October and I feel like every book I’ve read since I’ve had to forgive for not being The House in the Cerulean Sea. So, so good.
1E) Best Series: The Drowning Empire by Andrea Stewart – I read the first book in January and the sequel in December. A fascinating new fantasy world with gorgeous writing, excellent characters and intriguing mysteries!
1F) Best Nonfiction: The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi – Type-A women trying to improve their lives and sharing how they did it is kind of my thing in non-fiction, and this was excellent. Super practical and helpful, and now I listen to her podcast too.
1G) Hardest to Put Down: I Alone Can Fix It by Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker – A surprisingly engrossing nonfiction book trying to make sense of the final year of the Trump presidency, it was fascinating.
2) Worst Book: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – To be fair, this was a perfectly well-written book, but the timing was very bad! The description told me it was about a time traveler visiting the Middle Ages, and didn’t warn me that it was about the Black Death – or that there was a plague in the present-day part of the story either. We didn’t get to the Black Death until the last 50 or so pages, and then it was absolutely brutal as the heroine keeps trying to save one person, and then another, and fails utterly. Probably not my cup of tea most years, definitely not a good read for 2021!
3) Most Disappointing: Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken – Intended as a retelling of Austen’s Emma from Jane’s point of view, it started well in their childhood then added nothing to the original events of the book, and made nothing compelling out of the Jane/Frank Churchill romance. She kind of fell into an engagement, and by the end thought she might as well marry him because she could do worse – not the stuff of great romance!
4) Most Surprising (in a Good Way): Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – This was a lot of people’s favorite of the year, from the buzz I’ve heard, and while I didn’t love it that much, it did have some great twists and turns. All I knew was that the story centered on an astronaut far from Earth, and the places the book went were surprising and engaging. And I’ll stop there to not spoil them!
5) Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2020 To Read It: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson – It’s more that I waited a really long time to read this author. I keep hearing wonderful things about Sanderson, and I even listen to a writing podcast he does – but he also wrote Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians which stands out, ten years after reading, as one of the absolute worst books I have ever read (I mean…ever). I finally picked up Elantris and found it bore no resemblance to Alcatraz and was very well-written and enjoyable.
6) Most Hilarious Read: The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune – This superhero send-up was delightful, the characters were marvelous, and the twists were excellent. And it was very funny! The funniest I actually read this year was How to Be a Normal Person, also by TJ Klune, but that was a reread.
7) Most Satisfying Read: Adventure in Forgotten Valley by Glyn Frewer – This is only a pretty good book and is dated in some ways, but a teacher at a summer program I attended twenty-odd years ago read this to us, and my family went on vacation the week they finished. I finally tracked it down and got to read the ending – it turned out the way I always guessed!
8) Most Looking Forward to in 2022: Heat Wave by TJ Klune – The third book in the Extraordinaries series, this will be out in July, 2022. There was a terrible cliffhanger at the end of Book 2, and I have to read the next one to find out if I’m very angry with Klune, or if he’s going to pull off something amazing. My bet is on the latter, but I can’t wait to find out!
I think that rounds things up! So what have you been reading? What were some of your best and worst of 2021?