Here we are at the end of another year… it almost feels weird writing this as I’m not really sure where most of the year went. It seems only yesterday that I was writing my Best of 2020 post!
2021 has been a difficult year in many ways, but reading-wise it’s been absolutely phenomenal! I somehow read a whopping 77 books this year, probably the highest I ever read in a single year. I think spending a lot of time at home, alone, probably helped with that…
But the best part is, so many of those were really great reads. I had only one 2-star read this year, whereas I read an amazing 12 5-star books! And many, many more came really close with a 4 or 4.5-star rating.
I always find it hard to do a “best of”, since I hate picking favourites, but this year it was harder than usual! In the end, I narrowed it down to my top 15 reads of 2021. These include a mix of new and backlist books, but they’re all ones I discovered for the first time during this weird and wonderful year. The link in the book’s title takes you to Goodreads, while the one in the text goes to my review.
And so, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my favourite books read this year!
The Lost Storyteller by Amanda Block
I fell in love with this book and its honest, multilayered depiction of family, love and life, and mental health. The beautiful way in which the author captured the character’s father-daughter relationship and the main character’s journey of self-discovery is still fresh in my mind despite having read it months ago and that’s the sign of a great book. I won’t stop recommending this to everyone I meet any time soon (so go read it!).
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
This tale of magic and sisterhood completely enchanted me and made sure I whizzed through it despite it being on the lengthier end of the scale. Complex characters, an engaging plot, fascinating lore, and beautiful writing all ensured the Eastwood sisters’ spot in this list.
The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West
In my attempt to read a few titles outside my comfort zone this year, I decided to give some spooky reads a try, and I am so glad that I picked The Spirit Engineer to be one of these! Based on a true story, this book is a masterclass in characterisation and unreliable narration, aided by the author’s rich prose, and delivers a wonderfully crafted tale that will haunt you and chill you to the bone. Read at your own risk! (But seriously, read it).
The Red Fletch by Margaret McNellis
This feminist Robin Hood retelling was a treat and a delightful surprise. I was blown away by this engaging story and Alys, its charming protagonist. We all know I love a good retelling, and this one certainly delivered! This book takes a beloved legend and turns it into a new and original tale full of twists and turns, including also some reflective moments on very serious and contemporary issues and brilliant asexual/aromantic rep.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
What do you get when helping ghost grandma settle unfinished business with some gangsters in the name of an angry god? Black Water Sister, the perfect blend of original storyline, engaging prose, fascinating lore and vivid settings!
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Spin the Dawn was just the magical adventure I needed this year, with its charming characters, adorable romance, whimsical magic, dangerous quests and Asian-inspired lore. This book basically has it all, as it weaves together danger, magic, humour, romance, and a complex, Asian-inspired world in a beautiful and intricate tapestry.
Catch the Rabbit by Lana Bastašić
Catch the Rabbit is a beautiful homage to Alice in Wonderland, where most things and words have multiple meanings, and truth and reality are as elusive as a white rabbit. Steeped in Balkan history and culture, this is a multilayered read touching on several themes, such as friendship, family, identity, diversity, loss, the effects of war and so many more besides.
Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise
I’ve never really been a fan of Peter Pan. I always found him to be too fickle, spoilt, controlling and sometimes downright abusive to romanticise him or Neverland, so I tend to really enjoy any retelling where Peter Pan is not portrayed as a hero. Perhaps this is at least partly why I loved Wendy, Darling so much. At the same time, this book did so much more by giving Wendy a voice and allowing her to tell her story – and this time it is not a bedtime story for children. Instead, it’s a wonderfully dark retelling that takes on a life of its own, almost independently from the original story, to explore very real and modern issues around misogyny, mental health, trauma and survivorship, family and many, many more.
Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
I kept seeing this book on bookstagram, so I finally decided to give it a chance and I am so very glad I did. This is far from a happy book, but it holds some beautiful, deep and powerful reflections on grief, death and our relationship with it as human beings, love for others and for oneself, and the meaning of life. Multiple intersecting storylines, seen through the eyes of characters as rich and complex as they come, lead us on a journey that has the power to change us, one way or another.
For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
Redarys is a Second Daughter and all her life she’s known what that means: her only purpose is to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wilderwood so that he will return their old kings-turned-gods to her world. But Red soon discovers that not things aren’t always what they seem, and old myths and legends sometimes lie. The Wolf is in fact a man struggling to hold together the now crumbling Wood, the last remaining barrier between Red’s world and an evil beyond imagination. For the Wolf brings together familiar fairy tales and original mythology to create a complex and rich world, and it’s one of those books that reminded me why I love fantasy so much. Magic, an eerie wood, legends and traditions, and an incredible cast of characters come together in this beautiful and unforgettable tale. Can’t wait for the second book!
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura
Lonely Castle in the Mirror is one of those books that left me thinking about them long after I finished them, its themes and characters still living in my mind weeks later. This book is its characters more than anything else and they are real kids facing all-too-real problems. Magic intervenes to pull them out of their daily lives and into the castle through the mirror, but from there it’s all up to them. This is a gorgeous read tackling complex and painful subjects, while at the same time acting as a reminder of the beauty to be found in genuine human connection and relationships. A tale of friendship and hope and the power of love in all its forms that I will definitely return to in the future.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
I love retellings of Greek myths, so when I heard that Ariadne was going to be the protagonist of one, I was beyond excited. Ariadne is definitely one of the many, many women in Greek mythology to be sidelined, used and discarded and, ultimately, forgotten. Ariadne is a solid retelling that actually gives women a voice and calls out gods, heroes and common men alike for the way they treat the women around them. I can’t wait for Jennifer Saint’s take on Elektra in 2022!
All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter
All the Murmuring Bones was an instant favourite. This is a truly spellbinding book that kept me up way too late into the night. The author’s rich prose slowly drew me in until I was so immersed into the story that I completely lost all sense of time and space. The gothic atmosphere and folkloristic elements (such as merfolk, selkies, ghosts, and so many more) worked beautifully together to create a dark and intricate world. The world-building does take a bit of a back seat in favour of character development, but I didn’t mind too much since I usually prefer the latter anyway. I do love a good family secret, and this book was chock-full of them!
Little Thieves by Margaret Owen
This loose retelling of The Goose Girl completely blew me away! Vanja Schmidt, goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s faithful servant, right up until she decided to steal Gisele’s life for herself and started living a double life as a princess and a jewellery thief. Until she crossed the wrong god and was cursed to die by slowly turning into jewels… if an overzealous junior prefect investigating the thefts doesn’t have her arrested and executed first. Full of charm, wit and adventure, Little Thieves was an absolute blast to read. Look out for my full review, coming soon!
The Mask of Mirrors & The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
The Mask of Mirrors was one of my first reads of the year, and I came full circle by reading the second book in the series, The Liar’s Knot, as one of my last. Both were absolutely amazing and definitely helped earn Rook & Rose their spot as one of my favourite ever fantasy series. Yes, they’re that good that I’m not even waiting for the final book in the trilogy to call it. A con artist, a vigilante, and a crime lord facing nightmare magic, aristocratic feuds, and complex social dynamics: I didn’t really need much more than this to enjoy this series. And yet, I also got amazing worldbuilding, complex and beautifully fleshed-out characters, magic, witty banter, romance, hidden identities, religious cults, friendships, betrayals, swords fights, and secrets galore. Absolute perfection! And now I’m going to go into 2022 even more eagerly, awaiting the final chapter in the trilogy.
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