My Best Reads of 2021
For me, more reading time was one of the best things to come out of lockdown. I’ve always been one who would rather curl up with a good book than binge watch something on Netflix. I am most definitely and unashamedly a binge reader. Throughout lockdown in its several incarnations, I’ve been sharing my own novel, Piloting Fury, with you. (follow this link if you would like to read it from the beginning FREE.) But in a couple of weeks Fury will come to an end, so it seemed like a great time to slip in a post of my favorite reads for 2021, in case you’re wondering what I read when I’m not writing.
Strangely enough the best two stand-alone novels from my 2021 reading list happened to be the last two I read, and amazingly enough, they both were tales about memory and how much of who we are is tied up not only in our memories, but in others’ memories of us. They were both stunning, and it was a tough choice between the two as to which I thought was the best.
The first was The Binding by Bridget Collins, who is a new writer to me. The novel is fantasy set in a world where a person’s worst, most painful memories can be removed and bound in a book to be locked away in a vault. For the person who has been bound, it is as though the memory never happened. What could possibly go wrong? The Binding is a vibrant, evocative, and chilling story of what it might be like if bad memories could be as easily erased as sentences on a computer, and what happens when those bound memories end up in the wrong hands. Bridget Collins’ novel is a stunner, and one I can’t recommend enough.
But my number one stand-alone pick for 2021 is the novel I finished New Years Eve morning in the wee hours. It’s also my first novel by this writer. My Number one read for 2021 is V.E. Schwab’s fabulous The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue. Imagine making a deal with the devil to live a life different from the one being forced up on you, then finding yourself cursed with immortality, always to remember every experience, but never to be remembered by anyone. For Addie La Rue, the only way out is to call in the deal and hand over her soul. Like The Binding, Addie La Rue left me with a serious book hangover. You know the kind I mean, those very wonderful novels that leave you unable to stop thinking about the characters and the plot, and wondering, maybe even making up in your own mind, what happened after THE END. These two books both left me wishing I’d read them so much slower and savored them. But never fear, they’ve both been added to my TBRA list – To Be Read Again.
As it is every year, this year there were several memorable stand alones that were outside the list of books I would normally read. The historical stunner, A Splendid Ruin by Megan Chance is un-put-downable. A dark, disturbing, wonderful tale of family betrayal, and love set in San Francisco just before the 1906 earthquake. When a young woman from New York moves in with rich West Coast relatives she didn’t know she had, she quickly learns that she might not have been invited out of family love and loyalty.
The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi – a stunningly modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with twists and turns that make the timeless story fit right into the age of tech and social media like a comfortable sweater.
As for my walk on the Crime side this year I can heartily recommend anything by fabulous crime thriller writer, Helen Callaghan. Whether you start with her debut novel, Dear Amy, or her latest, Night Falls, Still Missing, if you’re a lover of psychological crime thrillers, you won’t be disappointed.
The best new ongoing series by one of my favorite writers is, without a doubt, Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series. Think Hogwarts from Hell, with the school itself trying to kill the students. I’m sure you can see the appeal. The first book, A Deadly Education, which came out in 2020, left all of Novik’s fans waiting anxiously for the next. was due to come out in July, but because of Covid and lockdown, it wasn’t released until September, and may I just say that The Last Graduate was absolutely worth the wait. It was far too quickly devoured, and has left me anxiously waiting for the final novel in the trilogy to be released in September this year. Novik has long been one of my favorite writers and the Scholomance series has made me even more a fan girl. If you’ve not read anything by Novik, then I suggest you do so without further delay. You’re in for a real treat.
In 2021, there was some stiff competition for the best series from a writer that is new to me. I loved Danielle L. Jensen’s Dark Shores series and her Bridge Kingdom series, both ongoing, both new to me, with the next book of the Bridge Kingdom coming out soon. Both are fantasy series with amazing world building and stories and characters worthy of the textured, beautifully dangerous, worlds Jensen has created.
Another wonderful series I discovered in 2021 is Lynette Noni’s Prison Healer Series. The novels are fantasy romance, and set in a prison. While the place is myopic, the character and the plot, the grit and the grip are most definitely not.
But my favorite series of 2021 by an author I’d never read before, and once again the last series I read for the year, is Sebastien de Castell’s stunning Spellslinger series. De Castell creates a world in which the wild west meets thieving, murderous, sorcerers on steroids with a bit of steam punk thrown in for good measure, and a cast of characters that I seriously wanted to travel across the deserts of the Seven Sands with. This is one you don’t want to miss. It’s funny, it’s moving, it’s full of suspense and great twists and turns. I blew through the eight books WAY faster than I would have liked, and Mr. Grace is now doing the same. Another series for my TBRA list.
As is the case every year, some of the books from my TBRA list get read again, and it’s just like spending quality time with a good friend. Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series is always well worth another read, and it’s been awhile, so that had to happen. To be fair, it was a SJM sort of year anyway, with the next novel in her Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of Silver Flames being released. (Which, by the way is my favorite so far in a series I love). And of course when a new novel in a series comes out, they all have to be read again so that the details are all fresh. And while it was a new read for me (now added to the TBRA list) I began Maas’s new Crescent City series, hungrily devouring the first novel, House of Earth and Blood, which leaves me waiting for the second book, which is coming out in February. A great Valentine’s gift to look forward to!
And where would a year be without reading Naomi Novik’s fabulous Temeraire series one more time. I’ve lost track of how many times this year’s read makes. For those of you who don’t already know, who haven’t heard me rave about the books, Novik’s Temeraire series is my all time favorite series EVER! Cuz … dragons!
Leigh Bardugo has seriously added to my TBRA list this year with three novels. First, her fantastically dark and gritty Six of Crows duology set in the Grishaverse after the Shadow and Bone series. These books were so addictive and gripping that Mr. Grace read them too just to see what I was enthusing about. I can’t say enough good things about this series. I adore the characters, all so wonderfully flawed and disturbingly dangerous, and the plot is fast paced, deeply textured at times heart stopping at times moving. The duology ticks all my boxes. Crows is by far the best of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, in my opinion.
Also on the list from Bardugo is her amazing adult novel, The Ninth House. Ghosts, murder, blood sacrifice and secret societies! I will never look at Yale the same way again. The novel is dark and disturbing and wonderfully redemptive, a cracking good read. Sadly, I’ll be waiting awhile on the second book of this series. Happily the reason is that this amazing author is busy working on the Netflix series, Shadow and Bone based on her novels of the same name. Which also includes some great back-story with the Crows. I highly recommend season one. I’m looking forward to the second season, and seriously wishing Leigh Bardugo could clone herself to write that sequel to The Ninth House.
In case you’re wondering how 2022 is going for me so far reading wise, well, I’ve decided to go with a winner and read V.E. Swab’s Shades of Magic series. I’ve been wanting to for a while, and after Addie LaRue, I’m ready for a Schwab binge. I’ve already finished A Darker Shade of Magic and am hungrily devouring A Gathering of Shadows. If one London isn’t enough for you, imagine a world with four, all very different, all very dangerous in their own way. And all occupying the same space with only a few people able to pass between … at their own risk, of course. Will it be on my top series list for 2022? Only time will tell.
And what about you? What are you reading? I would love to hear your picks for 2021. Here’s hoping that 2022 will see a lot of new TBRAs on your reading list.