Favourite Reads of 2021

Title in white on pale starry skies

It’s that time of year to round up the best books. It coincides with Top Ten Tuesday, a fun weekly meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

Of course, picking only ten (and ranking them) is absolutely awful! I tend to go by books that stayed with me the most and I really want to re-read (or have already!) I also like to make things harder for myself by saying that I can only list one book by an author, and the book has to be new-to-me this year.


10. A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, by Freya Marske

Book cover for A MARVELLOUS LIGHT: title in white on blue background with figures in orange and pink flowers behind

The first and last books on this list can best be described as “tropey goodness, with a plot designed to string the book along to provide the set up for certain scenes.” That is the exact sort of fun I wanted this year, celebrating fanfic by giving the scenes that are the staple of fanfic.

A MARVELLOUS LIGHT is a historical fantasy debut, about a Baron who suddenly discovers there’s a secret magical society and now he’s the government liaison to it, and has to work with his reticent counterpart. Oh, and he’s suddenly got cursed, so that has to be dealt with pronto.

9. THE MEMOIRS OF LADY TRENT (series), by Marie Brenan

Book cover for A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS: title in black above a drawing of an anatomical dragon

The first of two unusual/rule dodgers on here! I buddy read this entire completed series over the summer, and I loved it. I can’t quite work out which is my favourite installment, so as a cop-out, I’m mentioning the entire thing!

Beginning with A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS, this five book series (plus companion) follows Isabella as she investigates dragons from a natural historian’s perspective across the world. It has this really scientific and anthropological feel (author is an anthropologist) which I absolutely adored. So many cultures, and the slow build up and pay off for a mystery that becomes more obvious across the books was brilliant.

8. YEAR OF THE REAPER, by Makiia Lucier

Book cover for YEAR OF THE REAPER: title in white on red with a mace in the middle of the page and gold decoration around the edges

YEAR OF THE REAPER is a stately paced book about recovery in the aftermath of a plague. It is gorgeously written and I really liked reading about people recovering and going through all the tough work of putting things back together. It felt very escapist to read about after.

Plus, this book is also a political fantasy mystery. Cas has been a prisoner for 3 years by his nation’s former enemy. Since then, a peace treaty has been signed between the two countries’ monarchies, sealed with marriage. The king and his new queen are taking refuge in Cas’ home, and have brought their enemies too.

7. THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY (series), by Genevieve Cogman

Book cover for THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY: title in gold surrounded by border on green leather

Another full series that I devoured this year, THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY was a birthday present that I read and immediately ordered all the other books out at that point. (The 8-book series has finished this December with THE UNTOLD STORY.)

This series is, simply put, sheer imaginative fun. Worlds poised order (dragons) and chaos (fae, who exist as narrative archetypes), and the mysterious Library steals books from the worlds to stabilise them. Enter Irene, a Librarian, who ends up caught in the middle of the order vs chaos war, and also the concurrent war of a rogue Librarian against the Library.

6. A SINGLE THREAD OF MOONLIGHT, by Laura Wood

This is a testament to how much my tastes have been shifting over the past few years – the highest ranked YA on this list is position 6, and most of the list is adult fiction.

Book cover for A SINGLE THREAD OF MOONLIGHT: title in black on a white moon on a turquoise background above a black shilloutette of a dancing couple and below an orange tree

However, once again, Laura Wood absolutely smashed it out the park with A SINGLE THREAD OF MOONLIGHT, her latest YA historical romance. This time, we have a Cinderella-esque book, where Iris Grey runs away after her father remarries then mysteriously dies and is now coming back to her childhood home prove the crime and regain her inheritance with the help of the unfairly handsome and infuriating Nicholas Wynter.

Like her previous YAs, this book feels like being wrapped in a big snuggly blanket with a warm drink. It’s so much fun, and also significantly longer than her others (more time in world!)

5. IF WE WERE VILLAINS, by M. L. Rio

Book cover for IF WE WERE VILLAINS: title in white on black above a dead bird

My first taste of dark academia, IF WE WERE VILLAINS was a captivating read about obsession and possession. Plus it was centred around students studying acting through Shakespeare, and I love Shakespeare.

I loved loved loved seeing these famous scenes from the plays be acted out by the characters. They were used to show the emotional toil and tension between them, adding layers of subtext and danger to the performance. I have since started picking up a few more dark academia books, both ones with and without magic, as I enjoyed this one so much.

4. THE UNLIKELY ESCAPE OF URIAH HEEP, by H. G. Parry

This is the entry where I had to decide between two of an author’s book for which would be concluded. And, unlike the series above, these two books weren’t related. A RADICAL ACT OF FREE MAGIC, which retells the Napoleonic Wars, but with magic and vampires and is the duology finale to a book on this list last year? Or THE UNLIKLEY ESCAPE OF URIAH HEEP? I mean, the image and title tells you which I picked.

Book cover for THE UNLIKELY ESCAPE OF URIAH HEEP: title in white in front of old book shelves

THE UNLIKELY ESCAPE OF URIAH HEEP is the author’s debut (which only came out in the UK last year, but was originally published in the US in 2019.) It is a contemporary fantasy set in New Zealand, following the brother of a somewhat eccentric literature scholar who can brink characters to life from books.

What I loved, and keep coming back to with that book, was the way the book focused on the brothers’ relationship, all the push and pull tension. Charley is not the brother who narrates, but he is the main character in many ways, and it was so interesting to see a book where the lead is seen through someone else’s eyes.

3. THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN, by Ava Reid

THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN was one of the biggest SFF debuts this year, in terms of marketing and hype. A lot of big name authors were talking about it, and also just this cover?!

I really enjoyed this book about ethnonationalism and patriotism (or rather why you might save a country if you don’t feel patriotic.) It was gorgeously written and interwoven with stories from the world, which felt like a unified body of mythology even though many were invented for the book. Drawing on Jewish and Hungarian mythology, it was such a rewarding read, and has a brilliant, tension-filled enemies-to-lovers subplot too.

2. RACE TO THE DEATH, by Annelise Gray

Book cover for RACE TO THE DEATH: Title in black on a purple and yellows image of a girl on a horse looking over a landscape with a stadium rising in the background

This historical middle grade absolutely took me by surprise when I read it. Following a girl who’s grown up around the circus maximus, RACE TO THE DEATH sees her forced to flee and leave her beloved horse behind when corruption kills her father.

The pacing in this book was stunning, pulling you along through the highly engaging story. It’s a whirlwind adventure without rushing from set piece to set piece, fitting in plenty of character development and bonding. I loved all the historical details – you can tell the author (a Latin teacher) knows her stuff!

1. WINTER’S ORBIT, by Everina Maxwell

Book cover for WINTER'S ORBIT: title in green above a sci-fi landscape

One of the few books I’ve re-read this year, WINTER’S ORBIT is a super-soft sci-fi romance that’s also a political murder mystery at the same time. A prince dies just ahead of a treaty signing, forcing a cousin to marry his widower in order to keep the treaty valid. But doubts arise over the cause of death, threating the treaty.

This was such a fun read, with so many sweet moments as well as the engaging mystery plot. Plus I loved the relationship dynamic (the reserved one and the completely clueless one meaning they’re both so confused about what they feel and what the other feels) and how it was a story about healing after domestic abuse.


I want to make two quick shout-outs to two other books I’ve loved this year. Think of it as two bonus books I wished could have made it onto the list.

Book cover for VELOCITY WEAPON: title in white parallel to picture of a spaceship on white

The first is VELOCITY WEAPON, by Megan O’Keefe. It’s the start of an adult sci-fi space opera trilogy that finished this year. What struck me the most about this book was the mid-point twist. It is brilliant, completely up-ending everything you’ve assumed so far and sending the book in an all-new direction and making you re-think the first half.

I could not stop thinking about that plot point (and I really want to write a book one day that manages to pull off something like that so well!) I’ve spent the year recommending it to others who are trying to fit something like that into their own work.

Book cover for THIS GOLDEN FLAME: title in white on turquoise with gold geometric lines

The second is THIS GOLDEN FLAME, by Emily Victoria. This is a YA fantasy standalone and a debut. It has automata and felt slightly Ancient Greek in vibe. It’s not the actual world building, but that background feel managed to balance the world that had this old, not-quite-sure-how-it-works-as-it’s-advanced-yet-broken but wasn’t sci-fi/futuristic.

But what I loved the most about this book was that the two leads were both ace and aro. Instead, it was a book about friendship and truth in relationships. I loved seeing that rep front and centre, as someone on that spectrum myself.


What have been your favourite reads of the year?

37 thoughts on “Favourite Reads of 2021

  1. I adored Winter’s Orbit too and reread as well 😊😊
    I recently read Year of the Reaper and I completely agree, it was such a hopeful and healing book and I’m so in love with the MC…
    Awesome list !!! I hope I’ll get to read Velocity Weapon in the new year…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was scared to read a pandemic book but I’m glad it was about the aftermath and hope… I probably wouldn’t be able to get through a book if it was set during a pandemic ☹️☹️

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I still haven’t gotten into them as I still find them boring and either too bleak or too romance-focused, but I did get into Shakespeare (mainly through being old enough to go out by myself to the Globe Theatre!)

        Like

  2. I meant to read A Marvellous Light this year, but I won’t get around to it in the next few days, so it’s another one for next year I think! If We Were Villains is another one I definitely want to try as I’ve heard such good things about it. Unfortunately I gave up on The Invisible Library series after the first book as I found it too confusing, but I’m glad you enjoyed it!
    My TTT: https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2021/12/28/top-ten-tuesday-348/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The character death in the first book of A Natural History of Dragons crushed my heart and soul too much to ever continue (it’s been almost 7 years), which is such a bummer because I LOVED everything about that book right up until the end. Solid pick.

    Race to the Death has such a little-used setting/premise, I’m intrigued.
    –RS

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By contrast, I appreciated that she was willing to go the full way and kill off a character! (so few authors do kill of faves, I find, particularly ones with love interest potential!) Hope you enjoy RACE!

      Like

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