My top 15 books of 2021
2021 for me, was brimming with books of all kinds. It was a year of dipping my toes into all sorts of genres. From fantasy (my preferred genre) to self-help to thriller to historical and so much more. However, 2021 was also the year that I hit a new record for how many books I can squeeze into one year of reading.
After obtaining an injury (that’s what I get for trying to run a marathon…) which affects most of my body and of which I’m still recovering from to this day, reading became even more of a refuge for me than normal. In total, I read 70 books - 34 of which were audiobooks.
I’ll be publishing a post soon that goes into further detail as to all the books I managed to read. However, here is a list of the top 15 books that transported me away from the experience of being nearly bed-bound, away from the chaos of *cough* Covid *cough*, and into worlds that were truly magical.
15. A little life by Hana Yanagihara
*Trigger warning*: This book depicts experiences of sexual and physical abuse, childhood trauma, self harm and substance abuse.
This book gutted me like a fish and showed me a whole new depth of grief that I never thought I could experience. However, that is precisely why I am urging you to read Hana Yanagihara’s book because although there is terrible tragedy and cruelty within its pages, there is also tremendous love and friendship. ‘A little life’ follows four young boys throughout the decades of their friendship as addiction, love, pride and success all takes its toll on each of their lives. Although, the novel centres around Jude, a brilliant yet broken man who is impossibly inscrutable to even the closest people in his life. And it is Jude who makes this story of relationships and trauma so poignant, because his character speaks to the wounded child within us all that is crying out to be loved, to be needed and to feel safe. As a twenty year old, I felt both younger and aged after finishing ‘A little life’, as if the raw and honest prose wizened me to the hardships of life yet also made me cherish the years I have left.
14. Troy by Stephen Fry
I know previously in this selection of favourite books from 2021 I have mentioned listening to the audio version of several books, but if there is any of my recommendations that you take into consideration then please let it be this one. Stephen Fry narrates his own audio book via Audible and though it is a phenomenal retelling of Greek mythology in the first place, there is no one who brings these myths to life quite like Fry does. Almost anyone could you tell you something about the fall of Troy however, with his high doses of humour, enthusiastic narration and obvious passion for Greek mythology, Fry makes immersing yourself in this story way too easy. Thanks to his wealth of knowledge on this topic, Fry expertly guides the reader through the most interesting and important details of the war whilst also culling what he believes to be too repetitive or irrelevant. The best thing about this novel though, is that it is accessible to hardcore Greek mythology fans as well as total newbies, and I guarantee that no matter where you fall in that spectrum, you will learn something new having read it.
13. The midnight library by Matt Haig
I’m not going to lie, the first time I attempted to read this book, I DNF-ed it after twenty or so pages. However, I am patting myself strongly on the back for picking it back up again (this time as an audio book) later on in the year. As a person who loves book and who is also afraid of death, the concept of a midnight library is something that instantly appealed to me. Who wouldn’t, at their time of death, want the option not only to get a second chance at living but also to rewrite all the things in life you regret? I actually found the overall message of this book to be extremely satisfying to that inner voice in my head whispering what if? and if only…
Hence, despite being a fiction book, I found this novel to prompt serious self-reflection. As Nora, the protagonist, borrows time in the lives she could of had, I wondered about all the small decisions I made and how they contributed to where I am now. Though more importantly, and long after reading it, ’The midnight library’ continues to make me pause and consider whether my actions and decisions now are positively contributing to the future that I desire.
12. Clap when you land by Elizabeth Acevedo
‘Clap when you land’ is definitely a book that I initially read because the hype surrounding it was impossible to ignore. However, that hype was definitely justified. There is an almost bruised sensation you experience when reading this story. Yahaira and Cami, the two protagonists, somehow burrow under the reader’s skin as they explore the heart-achingly endless depths of grief and visceral longing. I found myself hurting when they hurt and facing the terrible splintering of their small universe as they both realise their father is dead and later on, when they find out about each other’s existence. For me, the aspect of Acevedo’s book that pierced me the most was the way she delved into the reality that you will never truly know someone completely. For both the girls, the loss of their dad was world-shattering but it isn’t until his death that their glossed perspective of him as the loving, perfect father is directly contradicted as he is later revealed to have been selfish and a lousy husband. Overall, Acevedo’s book brims with grief and tragedy but also family and Haitian culture, and I wanted nothing more than to wrap Yahaira’s and Cami’s story around me like a favourite blanket.
11. She who became the sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
I think 2021 for me was the year for slow burn books to have their time in the sun because this book definitely took its time sinking its claws into me. Though once it did, I didn’t want it to end. With strong Mulan/The poppy war inspired elements, ’She who became the sun’ is based on a particularly clever concept about a young girl, later known as Zhu Chongba, in Ming Dynasty China who refuses to be nothing. What I loved most about this book was the intertwining of Zhu with her enemy and foil, General Ouyang. Castrated by the man who killed his entire family as well as consistently described by others to possess a feminine outer beauty, Ouyang is similar to Zhu in the fact that he exists outside of the expected realm of gender standards. Between these two characters, this book explores the chafing, out-of-place feelings of gender dysphoria, the relationships between incompatible opposites and the unforgiving nature of someone willing to do whatever they can to achieve what they believe is their fate.
10. The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
What first attracted me to ‘The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ was, of course, the impossible intrigue of having seven husbands in a lifetime. However, I soon found out that it is Evelyn with which the reader becomes increasingly attracted to. Known for being a Hollywood actress and sexual icon, Evelyn is a complicated, compelling, awful and ambitious woman who hid sharp claws and teeth behind a beautiful face. When, at the age of 79, Evelyn decides to hire unknown journalist, Monique Grant to finally spill the tea on her rise to stardom, so begins the unravelling of a life filled with complicated lies, unexpected and forbidden love, and the hardships of being a woman in a man’s world. If you love fiercely unapologetic characters, morally grey dilemmas and well-written plot twists then Taylor Jenkins Reid and her novel, The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo are for you.
9. The universe has your back by Gabby Bernstein
This is actually the second time that I have read this book and when I say that it saved me, it really did. ‘The universe has your back’ was a much needed buoy in the turbulent waters of one of the toughest times in my life. To some it might seem a bit too woo-hoo fairytale nonsense. But the authenticity and compassion that underpins everything Bernstein writes, are what proves she speaks the truth. Two of the primary lessons that I took from this novel is how to turn fear into faith and to relinquish the water-tight control I held on my life. I listened to this book via Audible and would recommend that, if given the choice, you choose that method of reading. Bernstein herself, narrates the Audible version and I swear to you, there is an elevated sort of power in the way she reads her own work (the goosebumps raised on my skin at the sound of her voice can testify to this). All in all, if you are experiencing hardship or even if you just want to get closer to the happiness, safety, and security we all long for, then please. Read. This. Book.
8. The ten thousand doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
‘The ten thousand doors of January’ was the first book I read in 2021 and it proved to be one of the books that surprised me the most. Not that I was expecting this book to be a flop, because I’m convinced Alix E. Harrow is a word-witch, but because it is unlike any other book I’ve read before. This is a tale where the scent of other worlds linger in books, where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred and where the reader feels less like they are reading a paper and ink novel and instead experiencing a once in a lifetime adventure. If there is one feeling that I experienced consistently whilst reading this book, it is hope. Hope that magic exists and hope that our dreams are out there waiting for us, if only we have the courage to walk through the right doors when they are presented to us.
7. The vanishing half by Brit Bennett
If this novel reminds me of anything, it is a tapestry. The intricacies of each of the character’s lives are woven so deeply that it makes even non-believers think fate is real. ‘The vanishing half’ follows the intersecting lives of the Vignes twin sisters, Desiree and Stella, as their family dramas stretch and complicate over long decades. What struck me most about this book were the conversations around racism and how identity is not just something you’re born with but something that you claim. Bennett also details the diverse experiences of people of colour and for someone like myself who identifies as white, there were numerous terms such as ‘passing’ (where a person of colour is light skinned enough to pass as white) that I was made aware of. In summary, Bennett’s story is woven with complex family ties, tragedy, long-lost sisters and romance, and will be one that stays with you long after you’ve finished its final chapter.
6. The song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This book took my heart and then 416 pages later, gave it back to me in shreds. Would I do it all over again in a heartbeat? Yes. Am I recommending you to do the same? Hell yes. I already knew I loved Madeline Millar’s work before going into this book (Circe is also amazing, please go read it) but I could not have known how invested I would get in the relationship between the protagonist Patroclus and the legendary Demigod, Achilles. As a childhood lover of anything Greek mythology related, I found Millar’s revitalisation of the legend of Achilles refreshing, almost as if she took the centuries old myth and polished it till it sparkled. I credit this to her decision to shift the perspective to an overlooked character in Greek lore, Patroclus, who was equally fascinating. Furthermore, he enabled the reader to see Achilles in all of his godly glory as well as humanising him through their fond friendship and eventual relationship. So please, take my self-destructive advice to heart and put this book at the top of your TBR list for 2022.
5. These violent delights by Chloe Gong
This is the book for all the students who thought their teachers were crazy for thinking classic texts like Macbeth and Frankenstein were fun to read.‘These violence delights’ is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet though it incorporates a refreshingly modern twist, and is exactly as the title describes it; violent and delightful. The second chance, forbidden romance between Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov is the spicy, heart-in-your-throat kind that will leave you craving more. Set in the 1920’s, the story also gave me strong Great Gatsby vibes except with a sinful Shanghai twist. So if you love madness, gangsters and monsters in the shadows, all of which are balanced out by the agonies of first love and betrayal, this is your next read.
4. The invisible life of Addie La Rue by V. E. Schwab
Whilst this story begins as a slow burn, it is well worth the wait as V. E. Schwab lures you in for an unforgettable adventure that spans across centuries. Beginning her story in France in 1714, Addie LaRue learns why everybody tells you not to pray to the gods that answer after dark. The desperation behind her prayer is something that I feel most human beings have experienced. We all want to be remembered, to know that we have left some mark on this world. As Addie navigates the arduous consequences of her wish, her journey is peppered with loss, magic and most importantly, love. Overall, this is a heartbreakingly beautiful story that taps into universal human experiences and makes the reader question whether they are truly making the most of their precious, limited time here on Earth.
3. A court of silver flames by Sarah J. Maas
I have been an avid Sarah J Maas reader since her first series, A Throne of Glass, released in 2013. However, Maas has continued to go above and beyond with her intricately crafted fantasy worlds and authentically written characters. In ‘A court of silver flames’, her protagonist Nesta Archeron (a character I can’t believe that I initially hated!) battles her way through serious trauma and internal fears from her time in the Cauldron and as she adjusts to living in her new Fae body. But it is through Maas’ representation of Nesta’s mental illness in this book that makes it both authentic and validating for her readers that can see their own internal struggles reflected in Nesta’s. I believe this novel is truly a gem amongst the stones of the fantasy genre because the current amount of accurate and gracefully written mental illness experiences in fantasy novels are slim pickings. Though, on the other hand, Maas expertly balances her more serious topics with the perfect amount of smut, sexual tension and tattooed Fae men with impressive wingspans.
2. Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
After reading this book, I am convinced that I will never find love if it isn’t with Dante Quintana. In his coming of age novel, author Benjamin Alire Sàenz explores sexual orientation, masculinity and what it means to be Mexican American through his protagonist Aristotle Mendoza and his friendship with Dante Quintana. Aristotle is a broody, self-doubting teen desperate to understand his place in the world and know what it means to be a man. Through his friendship with Dante, who is charming, carefree and confident in who he is, Aristotle begins learning how to let his walls down. And if you have never cried (happy tears or otherwise) whilst reading a book, then prepare for this unforgettable story to be the first.
1. Serpent and dove by Shelby Mahurin
For me, there are few experiences that compare to the feeling of reading a book that exceeds my high expectations and I can honestly say that this YA fantasy novel now belongs in my top three fantasy series of all time. I will also admit without shame that I binged this trilogy in less than a week. Serpent and Dove is a novel that drops you right into the heart of the action; boasting spell-bindingly authentic characters, a searing romance and an ingenious magical system. Lou Le Blanc is the charming, self-confident heroine of the novel however Mahurin gives us glimpses into her other complex characters to create a plot that will keep you reading long past the witching hour. If you love a steamy romance, enemies to lovers and a kick ass heroine then brace yourselves, this book will sweep you off your feet.
... So that was my top 15 books of 2021! I am so excited to read all the upcoming books soon to be released in 2022. Please let me know what your favourites of 2021 were and if you have any recommendations for books I should add to my 2022 TBR list then feel free to also comment them down below.
Allen and Unwin, 2020. The midnight library cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/The-Midnight-Library-Matt-Haig-9781786892720>.
Amazon, 2017. The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Husbands-Evelyn-Hugo-Novel/dp/1501139231>.
Audible, 2019. The ten thousand doors of January cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.audible.com.au/pd/The-Ten-Thousand-Doors-of-January-Audiobook/0356512525>.
Audible, 2021. She who became the sun cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.audible.com.au/pd/She-Who-Became-the-Sun-Audiobook/1529043425>.
Big W, 2011. The song of Achilles cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.bigw.com.au/product/the-song-of-achilles-by-madeline-miller/p/171988>.
Big W, 2020. The invisible life of Addie LaRue. [image] Available at: <https://www.bigw.com.au/product/the-invisible-life-of-addie-larue/p/119935>.
Big W, 2021. A court of silver flames cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.bigw.com.au/product/a-court-of-silver-flames-court-of-thorns-and-roses-book-4-by-sarah-j-maas/p/139590>.
Goodreads, 2012. Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12000020-aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universe>.
Goodreads, 2015. A little life cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22822858-a-little-life>.
Goodreads, 2016. The universe has your back cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28956892-the-universe-has-your-back>.
Goodreads, 2019. Serpent and dove cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40024139-serpent-dove>.
Goodreads, 2020. Clap when you land cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52516332-clap-when-you-land>.
Goodreads, 2020. The vanishing half cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/51791252-the-vanishing-half>.
Goodreads, 2020. These violent delights cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50892212-these-violent-delights>.
Goodreads, 2021. Troy cover. [image] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53443339-troy>.