Favourite books of 2021

This is always one of my favourite blog posts to write and it took me nearly three weeks into the new year to finally have it up. This does not bode well for my blogging year but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

My reading year went well – quality wise. I only read half as many books as I used to but I got better at picking books I would love rather those I read for hype or fomo reasons, so this was a nice side effect. As a result, I have 10 books to share today; the first threeI rated a high 4.5 stars, the latter seven all got 5 stars. I tried to put them in order of enjoyment but as always this is a snap shot and could have been different on any other day.

10 Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I am a huge fan of Sally Rooney and this book worked for me the same way all her books work for me. I thought it was structurally brilliant with its introspective email chapters and the more aloof third person chapters alternating and give different lenses through which to understand her characters – and her characters are what shine as usual. I didn’t love this as much as Conversations With Friends but more than Normal People I think and I cannot wait to see what she does next, or rather what variation on her theme she dos next.

09 Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
This broke my heart. Here the whole was better than the sum of its parts but even the weaker essays are great. Febos puts herself and the reader through the ringer and her honesty and special attention to themes and repetitions makes this a perfect fi for me. I will be reading as much of her work as possible.

08 Animal Wife Stories by Lara Ehrlich
The only short story collection to make my list but what a brilliant book it is. It reminded me exactly why I love short story collections. It is weird and extremely well written, with a strong theme of feminism and motherhood and the stories are the exact perfect length each time (varying from the very short to the slightly longer than most short stories).


07 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
This an impeccable researched and structured deep dive into the Sackler family (of OxyContin “fame) – my main takeaway is, as usual, capitalism is the worst and regulation is indeed not the enemy. I didn’t quite love this as much as Say Nothing by the same author which took the very top spot of my favourite books on 2020 but it is incredible nonetheless. The Sacklers are indeed the worst and I had a running ranking who was the very worst of them (spoiler alert: it’s Richard).

06 White Magic by Elissa Washuta
This is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words, again. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it. Washuta disects her own trauma, both immediate and intergenerational, while writing circularly about a relationship disintegrating. It is very introspective in the best possible way and I love how she focusses herself more than anything else.

05 The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I knew I would enjoy Didion but I loved this even more. The prose is impeccable, the thoughtful use of repetition and returning to earlier themes and ideas is perfect and the emotional punch is harsh – there is a reason she is counted amongst the best stylists. I want to read as many of her books as possible.

04 Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Pretty much all of this worked for me, from the characters to the peculiar prose to the structure; especially the first half was near perfect for me. I do admit that this just hits a lot of my pleasure buttons and I can see where it might not work for other readers but I am glad that many people have taken a chance on this. Ultimately, on a metaphor-level I think this is a book about loneliness and about the structures we impose to deal with it. Clarke is chronically ill and you can tell she knows what she is writing about here. For me, this hit particularly hard given the slowly becoming unbearable pandamic and the intrinsic loneliness of new motherhood. I will treasure this book.

03 Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
If you pick up any of my non-fiction recommendations from this list, please pick this one. I loved this and I want so many more people to read this. It took Dancyger 10 years to write this book and it shows. It is so good. She achieves a level of reflexivity that is very rare in memoirs and it is structurally so very well done. It also packs an emotional punch while wielding its sentimentality as a weapon and I am just so impressed with this.

02 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
I have not been able to stop thinking about this book but at the same time I have trouble putting my thoughts and feelins into words. This is brilliant. I knew very little going into this book except that I will read anything Emily St. John Mandel writes and as such the book surprised me again and again. It is losely connected to her most recent two novels, Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, and I love her extended universe so much. She does this better than David Mitchell, whose writing I also adore, and I cannot wait to read whatever comes next. This book is both perfectly structured and compulsively readable, and as always her characterwork is beyond compare. So yes, I loved this.

01 No Gods, No Monster by Cadwell Turnbull
I ADORED this. So much, that I actually wrote a proper review for it. No Gods, No Monsters is literary fiction maquerading as urban fantasy and if there is anything that is my absolute catnip, it is this. The prose is brilliant, the character work perfect, and the structure made me happy. Turnbull does something so very clever with perspective that it made me giddy with joy – I love a clever play on perspective and here it did not only work stylistically but also made perfect sense in-universe.

Wrap Up September 2021

I am so stressed. Is anybody surprised? I am not surprised. September is always busy and I am trying to juggle so very many things, professionally, that I am glad for every minute I manage to read for fun.

Books I read in September:

During Rachel’s and my ARC-readathon, I first finished two romance novels instead – because of course I did. If I was good at TBRs, the state of my NetGalley shelf would not necessitate a readathon to catch up. I read I Hate, I Bake, and I Don’t Date by Alina Jacobs (2 out of 5 stars) which was banana-pants but I could not look away. If the central couple had been less awful (especially him, whose name I have forgotten but who is a trash person) I would have rated this higher because I was indeed very entertained. Afterwards, I did what I always do when I read a particularly weird and/or awful romance novel and reached for a favourite romance author. I read Love According to Science by Claire Kingsley (3 out of 5 stars) which was my least favourite in the series so far but still a whole lot of fun. Then I finished the absolute brilliant No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (5 out of 5 stars) which I liked so much that I have written a full review for the first time in half a year. I lso read One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) by Ilona Andreas (3.5 out of 5 stars) which I obviousy enjoyed – I do not think they even can write a book I won’t like at this point. I then finished the incredible White Magic by Elissa Washuta (5 out of 5 stars) which is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it.

I also decided to DNF Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone during our readathon which meant two reviews written in the two weeks, which at this point, I’ll consider a win. I got increasingly more bored with this and put it down 40% in. I do not think this book knows what it wants to be – it’s a thriller without having thriller pacing but with thriller plot beats, it’s a coming of age story without actually dealing with the coming of age, It’s literary fiction but the language felt more self-indulgent than anything else. This just did not work for me at all – and I am very sad because the premise and the promise of a dysfunctional sibling relationship really are brilliant.

Favourite of the Month:

No Gods, No Monsters – which is so far also my favourite book of the year.

Stats(ish):

I read five books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and one by a husband and wife team.Two books were romance, two can broadly be categorized as speculative, and one essay collection/memoir.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

Whatever I feel like. I won’t try to police my reading at all.

Wrap Up August 2021

Somehow the end of the month came suddenly. Where is the time going? I had a pretty decent reading month, courtesy of some much needed rereading of favourites of mine.

Books I read in August:

It took me nearly two weeks to finish my first book of the month. I read Tessa Bailey‘s newest: It Happened One Sommer (3 out of 5 stars) which was fun but not my favourite of hers. For some reason I do not get on as well with her traditionally published books. I appreciated that she switched it around and had her heroine be the one with the commitment problems for once and I adored that the hero just wanted her to see how brilliantly he thinks she is. But other than that, I can hardly remember anything about my reading experience. Then I reread the the first book in the second Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews, Sapphire Flames (5 out of 5 stars) – which I loved as much as the first time I read it. I am still sad that the publication of the third book was postponed until the summer of 2022 though. Then I finally read my ARC of Magma by Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir (4 out of 5 stars) – a quick and intense read chronicling an abusive relationship using short, diary type chapters. It made me a bit too mad for it to be a five star read and I didn’t quite love the ending but it is absolutely well worth the hype, with its perfectly sharp chapters with perfectly sharp prose, and its main character who is difficult: she is lonely and judgemental and even in the midst of her (horrible!) relationship that she knows is horrible cannot admit that her friends might know what they are talking about when they say they are worried. Afterwards, I needed something light and fun – and inhaled the next book in the Hidden Legacy series, Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (which I upgraded to 5 out of 5 this time around). I just love this series and the characters and the family dynamics and this time around, Alessandro’s arc really hit me in the feelings in the best way possible. Afterwards I finished the absolutely incredible Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (5 out of 5 stars). This is impeccably structured in a way that blew my mind, the self reflection at the core of this made me realize what memoirs can do, the inclusion of art is necessary and so helpful in grounding this, and I just loved this a whole lot, even the more sentimental parts. Then I finished Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (3 out of 5 stars) which I did not love as much as thought I would. Everybody adores these stories, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. While there were some really interesting sentences and the observations were really sharp, overall the structure of the stories didn’t ever seem to work for me and with short stories, structure is really what makes a story work for me.

I then decided to DNF Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford – the memoir just did not work for me and once I realized I was actively avoiding listening to the audiobook even when I had the time, I decided to call it quits.

Favourite of the Month:

Negative Space. I adored this book beyond measure and want everyone to read it. It is very clever, very beautiful, very honest.

Stats(ish):

I read six books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and two by a husband and wife team. I read two speculative romances, one contemporary romance, a short story collection, one translated novel and one memoir. I rated three books five stars!

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

For the next two weeks I will be focussing on my ARCs for Rachel and my #ArcsOfShame readathon. Wish me luck!

Most anticipated non-fiction releases of 2021

I love thinking about all the great books that will come out in an upcoming year. I am not always that great at following through and actually reading the books but writing these posts is always a favourite part of my blogging year. I have already talked about my most anticipated SFF releases of 2021 here, today I want to highlight some of the amazing sounding non-fiction titles I am excited about (although I should probably just call it as it is: my most anticipated memoirs with the odd essay collection thrown in). Clicking on the covers will lead to the books’ Goodreads pages because I am not good at giving summaries.

As You Were by David Tromblay (published by Dzanc Books, February 16th 2021)
I am already reading this and it’s as brilliant as I hoped but also as gruesome as I figured it would be. Tromblay talks about intergenerational trauma, PTSD, abuse, and growing up Native. It is written in second person, addressing himself, in a way that seems custom-made for me to love.

Women and Other Monsters: Bulding a New Mythology by Jess Zimmermann (published by Beacon Press, March 9th 2021)
A book combining Greek mythology, female monsters/ villains, and feminism?! Sign me right up! I have an e-ARC of this book and I am very excited to get to this. I haven’t read Zimmermann’s writing before but couldn’t just not grab this when I had the chance. This sounds RIGHT up my alley.

Girlhood by Melissa Febos (published by Bloomsbury, March 30th 2021)
I have wanted to get to Febos’ writing for ages and somehow never do read her. I am determined to change that in 2021 – and this collection of essays, combining theory and memoir (my favourite kind of non-fiction writing) sounds incredible. It has also been compared to The Argonauts, a book I really enjoyed.

Broken by Jenny Lawson (published by Henry Holt, April 6th 2021)
I enjoyed the previous two memoirs by Jenny Lawson and cannot imagine this one being much different. I like her tone and her unflinching honesty regarding her mental illness while remaining funny. Here she chronicles her experience with an experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation, and I am very interested in this angle.

White Magic by Elissa Washuta (published by Tin House Books, April 27th 2021)
Another memoir-in-essays about growing up, about addiction, and about mental health, this one connects these musings to cultural beliefs and, yes, white magic to explore “questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.” This sounds incredible and Washuta is brilliant on twitter.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (published by Santa Fe Writers’ Project, May 1st 2021)
Somebody on Twitter said that this is already their favourite book of 2021, I cannot remember who but it instantly made me add this to my TBR. I am particularly interested in this angle of the book: “But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges?” What I’ve read of Dancyger’s writing so far, I enjoyed, so I will probably love this.

Well, This Is Exhausting by Sophia Benoit (published by Gallery Books, July 13th 2021)
I adore Benoit on Twitter and really enjoy her advice column (I love a good advice column). I also particularly like memoirs-in-essays, so I have high hopes for this. Especially because I already like Benoit’s way of talking and thinking about feminism. I also expect this to be funny and I could do with more funny books. The brilliant cover doesn’t hurt either.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (published by tordotcom, August 17th 2021)
I adore Charlie Jane Anders – which is basically the only reason I am interested in a book about writing. Anders wrote this book during the lockdown and as such it might really help me deal with the way our lives have all been drastically altered. Her writing is usually optimistic which is something I really need right now.

In Open Country by Rahawa Haile (published by Harper, February 2nd 2021 or maybe September 21st 2021 or maybe January 11th 2022)
This sounds incredible: Haile hiked the Appalachian Trail as a Black woman and I am here for a memoir exploring that. I love a well-done travel memoir, especially if it includes hiking. I really hope the book publishes next year but I am finding many different publication dates, no final cover, and no final description. Still, I am stoked for this. (Goodreads page here)

What are your most anticipated non-fiction releases of the year? I am particularly interested in titles in genres other than memoir.