My Reading List for 2021

I have written a bit about how odd 2021 was, and that oddness crept into my reading. It’s not uncommon for me to read forty-ish books a year, and I once again passed my goal. But along with novels, I generally read some comics and short stories. Yet, this year I didn’t. Was it a lack of interest? New projects filling that time? The weirdness of the waning pandemic? Not sure! Whatever it was, for 2021, both those sections will be empty.

All that said, I had a great experience reading through the year. On the whole, I enjoyed my reading more in 2021 than last. There were a lot of new finds, I rarely came across a book I couldn’t stand, and I discovered some new favorites. That’s a win.

This list correlates with my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge. But there are usually some slight differences between the two. This list is all strictly reading for pleasure—I typically forgo listing any research/history books I’ve read for a project as I read those differently than I do fiction. This list is always enormous, so l skip reviews except for my favorites. However, I’d invite you to follow me on Goodreads, where I occasionally leave other reviews.

Most links will go to IndieBound—now more than ever, be sure to support your local bookstore. If possible, I am directly linking to each author’s website—if you’re on the list and I didn’t find your website, please let me know about it. (I won’t link to social media, sorry.)

Okay, to the list!

📚 Novels & Novellas

  1. Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4)
    by James S. A. Corey
  2. Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3)
    by Martha Wells
  3. Ring Shout
    by P. Djèlí Clark
  4. The City We Became (The Great Cities #1)
    by N. K. Jemisin
  5. Planet of Exile
    by Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. A Killing Fire
    by Faye Snowden
  7. The Beauty
    by Aliya Whiteley
  8. The Hospital Ship
    by Martin Bax
  9. We Ride the Storm
    by Devin Madson
  10. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century 🎧
    by Barbara W. Tuchman
  11. The Resisters: A Novel
    by Gish Jen
  12. A Demon-Haunted Land:
    Witches, Wonder Doctors, And The Ghosts Of The Past In Post–WWII Germany 🎧
    by Monica Black
  13. The Ruins
    by Scott Smith
  14. Merkabah Rider: High Planes Drifter
    by Edward M. Erdelac
  15. Whispers in the Dark
    by Laurel Hightower
  16. We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse #1)
    by Dennis E. Taylor
  17. Criterium
    by Tyler Jones
  18. The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge #1) 🎧
    by Ken Follett
  19. The City of Ice (Gates of the World #2)
    by K. M. McKinley
  20. Foundryside (The Founders #1)
    by Robert Jackson Bennett
  21. The Republic Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3)
    by Scott Lynch
  22. The Talisman (The Talisman #1) 🎧
    by Stephen King & Peter Straub
  23. A Man of Shadows (Nyquist Mysteries #1)
    by Jeff Noon
  24. The Blacktongue Thief (Blacktongue #1)
    by Christopher Buehlman
  25. The City in the Middle of the Night
    by Charlie Jane Anders
  26. Territory 🎧
    by Emma Bull
  27. Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #3)
    by Martha Wells
  28. A Ritual of Bone (The Dead Sagas #1)
    by Lee C. Conley
  29. Inside Man (Prosper’s Demon #2)
    by K. J. Parker
  30. Arm of the Sphinx (The Books of Babel #2)
    by Josiah Bancroft
  31. Wolf Hall (Wolf Hall Trilogy #1)
    by Hillary Mantel
  32. The Goblin Emperor (The Goblin Emperor #1)
    by Katherine Addison
  33. Cabal
    by Clive Barker
  34. The Boatman’s Daughter
    by Andy Davidson
  35. Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery 🎧
    by Brom
  36. Slow River
    by Nicola Griffith
  37. Kim
    by Rudyard Kipling
  38. Revival 🎧
    by Stephen King
  39. Paradise Club
    by Tim Meyer
  40. Monstrous Heart (The Deepwater Trilogy #1)
    by Claire McKenna
  41. Subject 11
    by Jeffery Thomas
  42. City of Illusions (The Hamish Cycle #3)
    by Ursula K. Le Guin
  43. Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4)
    by Jim Butcher
  44. The Autumn Republic (Powder Mage #3) 🎧
    by Brian McClellan
  45. The Sunless Countries (Virga #4)
    by Karl Schroeder

🏆 Favorite Novel of 2021

The Blacktongue Thief

by Christopher Buehlman

I was already a fan of Buehlman’s from his horror work. So when I heard he was writing a fantasy series I got excited. I couldn’t be happier with the result. The Blacktongue Thief worked very well for me. It is crass and funny while it remains true to its fantasy roots it explores new and wonderfully weird ideas. It’s thoroughly refreshing and has become one of my favorite fantasy novels as a result. I eagerly await the sequel.

🏅 Favorite Novel Runners-up of 2021

Monstrous Heart

by Claire McKenna

I love a book whose genre is difficult to pin down. (Surprise surprise.) Monstrous Heart’s got weird steampunk tech, in an alt-history world with blood magic, weird eugenics cults, warring magic families, and murder mysteries in a creepy Innsmouthian town. Combined with some beautiful prose, McKenna has built a world as fascinating as it is stunning. I was enthralled from start to finish.

The Beauty

by Alita Whiteley

This was recommended by M. R. Carey during our panel for TBR Con earlier this year and I’m glad I picked it up. The Beauty is a dark thought-provoking heart-of-mankind story about history, myth, and the stories we tell all set in a future world without women. It’s a bit of an allegory which isn’t something I typically enjoy, but it works well here and the story stuck with me. A small but powerful novel that is very much worth your time.

🎈 Honorable Mentions of 2021

It was tough to pick the top three novels, but I force myself to do it. But, I read so many good books this year and wanted to call out a few more of the standouts. I’ve listed them in order of reading.

💥 Graphic Novels & 📜 Short Stories

As I mentioned above, I fell short in these two categories. I read no short stories and only read one graphic novel this year (Preacher Book IV), so there won’t be 2021 lists for either category. That said, my graphic novel TBR pile is growing, and I have some new subscriptions to some speculative fiction magazines, which will expand my short story reading.

I look forward to returning to both of these categories in 2022.

🎭 Poems

Poetry is still here! It’s hard for me to keep track of poetry because I read it often and my brain doesn’t always record it. But I read some standout poems over 2021 and I wanted to share a few with you Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” is stunning and uplifting, Wendle Berry’s “Enemies” is thoughtful and beautiful, and I revisited an old favorite of mine Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”

  1. “Burning the Old Year”
    by Naomi Shihab Nye
  2. “I Ask My Mother to Sing”
    by Li-Young Lee
  3. “The Hill We Climb”
    by Amanda Gorman
  4. “Enemies”
    by Wendell Berry
  5. “Frederick Douglass”
    by Robert Hayden
  6. “Strange Balance”
    by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
  7. “For the Anniversary of My Death”
    by W. S. Merwin
  8. “The End”
    by Mark Strand
  9. “Good Bones” …again.
    by Maggie Smith
  10. “Sorrow Home”
    by Margaret Walker
  11. “What my 11 year old said when I was crying that day”
    by Tetyana Denford
  12. “Birdwatching”
    by Lynn Ungar
  13. “Here’s A Nut”
    by Louisa May Alcott
  14. “The Second Coming” …again.
    by William Butler Yeats
  15. “Down Jacket God”
    by Moon Bo Young
  16. “December”
    by Matthew Zapruder
  17. “A Penitent Considers Another Coming of Mary”
    by Gwendolyn Brooks
  18. “Butter”
    by Elizabeth Alexander
  19. “i am running into a new year”
    by Lucille Clifton
  20. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
    by Robert Frost

Thus complete’s my reading list for 2021. I’m not going to miss this year. Between the chaos of its beginning to the slow return to whatever constitutes as normal, I think we will all be glad to see it go. But this odd year allowed me to consume a solid chunk of books, and overall the books I read were enjoyable. When it comes to my reading, I have few complaints. I’m ready to start some new reads that’ll begin my list for next year, and I look forward to diving back into graphic novels and short stories. I think my reading year in 2022 will be excellent.

How about you? What were the standout books, graphic novels, short stories, or poems you read this year? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let me know!

Are you looking for a good book? Want to see my reading lists from previous years? Check any of the links below and see what I was reading in the bygone days of yore.

 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 •

Next year, why not join me? Goodreads does a reading challenge every year, and I am an active participant. First, follow me on Goodreads (leave me a review while you’re there), and once the New Year arrives, participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2022.

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2021 in Ten Significant Photos

How is it already the end of December? Christmas is this weekend! In some ways, it feels like the year was ten years long, yet in others, it feels like a blip. I blame the pandemic. My perception of time has gotten funny since it started.

This is the post wherein I reflect on my last year through ten photos that marked significant places in time. It’s become a tradition here. After last year, I thought (hoped?) this would be easy, but like 2021 itself, it was an odd experience full of highs and lows. That said, as always, I found that there was more to my year than I expected and 2021 was surprising.

The rules. Pick ten photos from my past year that are the most significant to me: positive or negative—significance can be found in either. But it can’t be more; it can’t be less. Some moments will have to fall by the wayside—that’s intentional—culling is a part of this process. It helps create a more realistic and personal picture of your year. Some years will be more complicated than others, and sometimes you’ll need to discover significance in the smaller, quieter moments. This is the way.

So, I could keep rambling, but instead, let’s take a look at my 2021 distilled into ten significant photos.

My favorite photo of Willa in our garden (Photo by Kari-Lise)

Willamina, our big English Lop, passed away early in the year. We buried her under her favorite bush. She was old for a large rabbit, but her death snuck up on us. I haven’t ever met a rabbit like Willa. She was fearless, curious, friendly, loved attention and people. It was typical for her to follow us around the yard and explore as we worked nearby. Our garden isn’t the same without her.

New bathroom (Left) and remodeled kitchen (Right)

Last year I mentioned that we had declared 2020 as “The Year of the House,” and in many ways, it was. But that labor spilled over into the first few months of 2021 as well. But in the end, we got a fancy new bathroom—removing the original bathroom from the 1940s—and an upgraded kitchen. We’ve been in our house for over a decade now, and many of these updates were long overdue. I’m delighted with the result and the outcome was worth the awkwardness that came with remodels during a pandemic.

Gleam Upon the Waves and its swag set

I launched a new book! It’s true! It happened! Gleam Upon the Waves, the next chapter of Waldo Bell’s adventures, arrived at the end of March and was released to the world. You can buy it right now! When you get deeper into writing a series, things get more complicated, and this story was a long time coming. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Thanks to everyone who picked up a copy. Double thanks to those of you who left reviews. Your excitement is what keeps me going. I couldn’t be more appreciative of my readers.

While waiting my 15 minutes, I took a selfie

The vaccine arrived! Kari-Lise and I got jabbed as soon as possible, and we got our second shot a few weeks later at a lovely little spot right by Lake Washington. It was a huge relief, and I am grateful that my city has embraced it. It’s a pretty incredible feat of medicine. I cannot think of how many lives it’s saved, and I am grateful to the medical community for pouring so much effort into its development, rollout, and distribution. Seattle is over 75% vaccinated, still vigilant, and we’ve been near the bottom in cases per capita in Washington. It makes a fella proud to call this place home.

Kari-Lise in a monochromatic space within the House of Eternal Return

We escaped! Freshly vaccinated, we took a short trip away from home to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After more than fifteen months of staying home and social distancing, it was a welcome respite and a nice change of pace. We ate incredible food. We saw cool art, and we got lost in Meow Wolf’s stunning House of Eternal Return. Santa Fe is rad, and New Mexico is spectacular. Should you like to know more, I documented the whole trip in this post.

Tyrant hanging out with me earlier in the year

After fifteen years, one of my best buddies in the world passed away. Tyrant had become an essential fixture in our lives, and it was hard to let him go. I’m grateful the pandemic allowed me to spend so much time with him during his last years. Months later, here I am, tearing up while writing this. Shortly after his death, I wrote a tribute that encapsulates him better than this tiny blurb ever could. I still miss him. Tyrant never lived up to his name. He was a good boy.

Ferry to Bainbridge Island looking back toward Seattle

We explored our home. We started doing this in 2020, and it continued into 2021. One of the best things about living in the Puget Sound area is the hundreds of islands, peninsulas, straights, bays, coves, ports, beaches, and bluffs there are to explore. We returned to favorites like Vashon Island, explored Whidbey, and went to the Peninsula a few times. I’ve often said that to experience Seattle, you have to leave Seattle it’s a city defined by the landscape around it, and these trips cemented why living here is so wonderful.

Vera with Uncle Michael (Left) and Reghan (Right)

The streak continues! This year, I have two new nieces, which brings my nibling count up to seven! Vera on the left was born in the spring to Kari-Lise’s brother Andrew and his wife, Kim. (I can assure you we have a better rapport than what you see in that photo.) Reghan, on the right, was born on my birthday (more on that later) to my sister Meghan and her husband, Tyler. Both are adorable and growing way too quickly.

For whatever reason, I found myself reconnecting with baseball. I’ve always been a fan of the Seattle Mariners, mostly thanks to being the perfect age when Ken Griffey Jr. played (the man is still my first sports hero), but the game took a backseat over the last few decades. This year was different. I found myself drawn back to the ball game and the ballpark. While the Mariners still didn’t make the playoffs, (there’s always next year) I’m finding myself looking forward to the 2022 season.

Me hiking along the Harry’s Ridge trail at Mt. Saint Helens (Photo by Kari-Lise)

I turned forty. I don’t usually care much for my birthday. I find the whole thing superfluous. But, this one is supposed to be a milestone. It’s interesting to look back on my life after forty years. The moments that stand out. While this post focuses on the events this year, hitting a “birthday milestone” like this had me reflecting on life in macro. I’ve had a good life. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I am married to the best person in the world. I have amazing friends and a loving family. I’m lucky. Forty ain’t so bad.

There’s my ten! As I said earlier, it was a year of highs and lows. I’m not alone in that. This was a mixed year for many people, and it was a mixed year for me as well. The pandemic is still present in our lives, and normal still isn’t so normal anymore. We’re still masking up, being careful, and social distancing when we can. Thankfully many of our friends are vaccinated, so hangouts were easy, and that personal reconnection was good.

There’s so much to 2021 this post didn’t cover. Trips with friends to celebrate the New Year. Paneling at TBRCon was terrific, and it set up much of my reading for the year. (I’m coming back in 2022!) Cabining. Writing retreats. A visit from my sister. Our garden. A trip to Portland for the wake of a dear friend. Beaches and tide pools. Backyard BBQs. Family and close friends both moving back to the Seattle area. Summer soccer games. Seattle’s record-breaking heatwave in June and its record rain in November. Then there’s Moth & Myth’s incredible growth. As with every year, this list could be so much longer.

So, how about you? What did you experience in 2021? What are your ten photos? Assemble them and leave a comment with a link! Let us all know about the significant events in your year.

I’ve been doing this since 2014, and even in challenging years, I’ve found it beneficial. Interested in revisiting my photos of past years? Just click on any link below and check out my selection from that specific year.

2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 
• 2018 • 20192020

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