Welcome to My Top Books of 2021! It’s been quite the year, and I’ve had more than enough time to read again this year, as my immune system hasn’t been the same since I had COVID—in 2020. Lots of sick time this year, and lots of strange work hours, and lots of canceled plans meant lots of reading time. Which wasn’t all bad, tbh.
While I might try to knock out a Most Anticipated list for the first half or quarter or third or whatever 2022, that’ll have to wait until we’re done sending off 2021. So without further ado…
12 – TIE
Rabbits – by Terry Miles
The Second Bell – by Gabriela Houston
Couldn’t make up my mind between these two standalones—both authorial debuts of 2021! Rabbits told an exciting if ofttimes confusing tale of a competition you didn’t know was happening unless you were in it, and maybe not even then. Indeed you could march all the way to your grave not knowing you were playing! On the other side, The Second Bell told of a child born with two hearts—one a normal human heart, the other a darker, blacker one. I also loved this story of Slavic folklore, but I must admit it didn’t leave a very lasting impression.
The Lights of Prague – by Nicole Jarvis
The Lights of Prague is a tale of love and vampires in a dark and gothic city. Another debut work, this is a great read for people just off the Empire of the Vampire, or someone after something with a dark, romantic twist that also provides plenty of action, mystery, and thrill. Though I initially rated it a bit lower than some of these others, it left a lasting impression.
How to Forage for Mushrooms without Dying – by Frank Hyman
Goodreads • Review
The first of two non-fiction offerings, How to Forage for Mushrooms is a beginner’s guide for how to forage for mushrooms “without dying”. I had planned to read this and then forage and then, having not died, review it. Turns out, while incredibly helpful and interesting, quite a lot of the mushrooms in here are found on either the East coast, West coast, or Heartland. And since I live firmly in the Rockies, most were already out of season by the time I read it. So the foraging will have to wait for the spring. But it’s still a good read for any wannabe mycologists out there!
Blood of Chosen – by Django Wexler
Burningblade & Silvereye #2
The followup to my Book of 2020 failed to live up to its somewhat unfair standard that Ashes of the Sun set last year. But still was a thoroughly interesting, thoroughly exciting tale of a brother and sister torn apart, on either side of a war that they each are beginning to feel like little more than pawns in. Possessive of a deep, vivid and richly built science fiction world, this fantasy blends the genres into something that I can’t exactly class, but could definitely fall in love with.
Nowhere to Hide – by Nell Pattison
Seven friends, seven POVs, seven would-be killers. All horrible people. I was disgusted by each and every one before the book ended. But found that I could relate to most of them, as well. A lovely thriller that you’ll either love or hate, Nowhere to Hide slides into #8 on my list, just missing out on the Top 7 by virtue of having a rating lower than perfect at 4.8.
Extraterrestrial – by Avi Loeb
My second “non-fiction” read of the year blurs the line between non- and fiction. It’s a science/astronomy entry by physicist Avi Loeb, and discusses the—in his opinion—very real, obvious existence of extraterrestrial life. Now, I do believe in aliens, but not in the old-fashioned sense of the little green men and abductions and the like. I just feel that the human (and often religious) stance that we’re alone in the universe is the height of hubris, a misplaced one at that. Regardless of my own opinions—which Loeb doesn’t particularly share—Extraterrestrial is a good read for anyone who has never tried to justify the existence of extraterrestrial life through scientific means. I will note that at times the text gets into dense scientific terms and mathematics, but Loeb often takes the time to simplify it afterwards for the casual reader.
Voidbreaker – by David Dalglish
The Keepers #3
The final (?) volume of the Keepers trilogy wraps up the war between the humans and dragon-sired in a way I’d never have seen coming. There’s nothing simple about this one. No real winners. Many, many losers. Blood, death, flame, unrest, and chaos. Lots of chaos. I love a good dark, chaotic read, particularly when it keeps its head. I’ve now read double-digits of Dalglish’s books and I’ve the feeling that while these were as close to perfect as imaginable, the best are still yet to come.
Firesky – by Mark de Jager
Chronicles of Stratus #2
Firesky concludes the Chronicles of Stratus with a roar—one that shakes the world to its core. I treated the Chronicles as one long volume as Infernal just up and left off in the middle of the original tale. As such, these are best read back-to-back, though there is a recap for those who chose not to do this. The fact is that Stratus is possessed of a unique and interesting voice, one that reflects just the kind of man he is. I cannot recommend this adventure enough, particularly as an audiobook! To be fair, Firesky’s ’21 release was a reissue, but as I’d never read it, I treated it as new for this year.
The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan
Covenant of Steel #1
The Top 4 were impossible choices. My favorite books of the year that could’ve fitted into any of the places 1-4. I spent far too much of my time on this and still am not 100% happy with my choices. But… close enough. The Pariah leads the way at #4, as Ryan’s books often start out strong but ultimately suffer a sophomore slump (or, as much of a slump you get when going from 6/5 to 4.5/5 stars). Alwyn Scribe was quite the character to read despite his conflicted feelings, deeply human flaws, and foolish, idiotic hope in the face of what would generally be overwhelming cynicism. The world-building is top notch, the characters deep and well-thought-out, and the story amazing.
‘ Power doesn’t need a purpose:
Power is its own purpose.
It is the only goal that has value in itself,
because it is the means by which all other goals are achieved. ‘
Risen – by Benedict Jacka
Alex Verus #12
Originally my #2, I bumped it to 3 after consulting what I took away from each book and just how perfect an ending it was considering all the factors. While I’m happy to report that the Alex Verus saga ended incredibly well considering there were a dozen books in it—it wasn’t perfect. Very few things are. But over the same amount of pages, I counted its imperfection enough to send it down a space (though I’m really just nitpicking at this point). Honestly, I’m thrilled that this series ended so well! There’s no Dresden Droop, or whatever you’d like to call it. It’s a five-star read for sure, one that’s more than worth the wait!
‘ When at last the fields do wither,
When the stricken fade;
The Gods shall pass beyond the veil,
And the land shall be remade. ‘
A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Song of the Shattered Sands #6
Where Risen wasn’t the perfect conclusion to the Alex Verus series, A Desert Torn Asunder isn’t the perfect ending to the Shattered Sands either. But it was damn close. The simple fact is that the ending stuck with me in such detail that it jumped to #2. The world-building and story were so amazing that they almost could have won it the year, but ultimately had to settle for second. Thing is that I’ve adored the Shattered Sands despite the minor missteps that have plagued the series. But it’s awful hard to complain about a series repeatedly churning out 4.5 star entries. Particularly when it ends on such a high note.
‘ They were moving through a land of tree-cloaked hills and shadow-dark valleys, of sun-drenched meadows and rivers winding and glistening like jewel-crusted serpents that coiled through the land. The new-risen sun blazed bright as Varg stepped out on to a hillside of rolling meadow and left the trees behind him. ‘
The Shadow of the Gods – by John Gwynne
Bloodsworn Saga #1
What ultimately ensconced Shadow of the Gods at #1 was that I had nothing negative to say about it. Absolutely nothing. It not only lived up to the hype: this book killed it. It wasn’t the perfect read (no read is absolutely perfect) but it was as close as money can buy. The world-building, the characters, the lore, the journey, the story, the execution—this has it all. And it’s still only the first of a series. I cannot wait to see where the story leads, but like Ashes of the Sun before it, Shadow of the Gods has set the bar so high that its sequel cannot possibly live up to the expectations. Unless it does.
Hope y’all enjoyed it! If you’re a reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed at least a few of these, but if you’ve yet to discover any, I can only pray that you end up liking them half as much as I did! If you’re a blogger, I can’t wait to see your own lists and picks for this year! If you’re either or neither or both, I’d love to hear what you thought! Or anything you’d like to see more of, or any other comments or questions you have! Rest easy, 2021—you tried, that’s enough.