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 2020 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
- Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4)
by James S. A. Corey
- Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3)
by Martha Wells
- Ring Shout
by P. Djèlí Clark
- The City We Became (The Great Cities #1)
by N. K. Jemisin
- Planet of Exile
by Ursula K. Le Guin
- A Killing Fire
by Faye Snowden
- The Beauty
by Aliya Whiteley
- The Hospital Ship
by Martin Bax
- We Ride the Storm
by Devin Madson
- A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century 🎧
by Barbara W. Tuchman
- The Resisters: A Novel
by Gish Jen
- A Demon-Haunted Land:
Witches, Wonder Doctors, And The Ghosts Of The Past In Post–WWII Germany 🎧
by Monica Black
- The Ruins
by Scott Smith
- Merkabah Rider: High Planes Drifter
by Edward M. Erdelac
- Whispers in the Dark
by Laurel Hightower
- We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse #1)
by Dennis E. Taylor
by Tyler Jones
- The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge #1) 🎧
by Ken Follett
- The City of Ice (Gates of the World #2)
by K. M. McKinley
- Foundryside (The Founders #1)
by Robert Jackson Bennett
- The Republic Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3)
by Scott Lynch
- The Talisman (The Talisman #1) 🎧
by Stephen King & Peter Straub
- A Man of Shadows (Nyquist Mysteries #1)
by Jeff Noon
- The Blacktongue Thief (Blacktongue #1)
by Christopher Buehlman
- The City in the Middle of the Night
by Charlie Jane Anders
- Territory 🎧
by Emma Bull
- Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #3)
by Martha Wells
- A Ritual of Bone (The Dead Sagas #1)
by Lee C. Conley
- Inside Man (Prosper’s Demon #2)
by K. J. Parker
- Arm of the Sphinx (The Books of Babel #2)
by Josiah Bancroft
- Wolf Hall (Wolf Hall Trilogy #1)
by Hillary Mantel
- The Goblin Emperor (The Goblin Emperor #1)
by Katherine Addison
by Clive Barker
- The Boatman’s Daughter
by Andy Davidson
- Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery 🎧
- Slow River
by Nicola Griffith
by Rudyard Kipling
- Revival 🎧
by Stephen King
- Paradise Club
by Tim Meyer
- Monstrous Heart (The Deepwater Trilogy #1)
by Claire McKenna
- Subject 11
by Jeffery Thomas
- City of Illusions (The Hamish Cycle #3)
by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4)
by Jim Butcher
- The Autumn Republic (Powder Mage #3) 🎧
by Brian McClellan
- The Sunless Countries (Virga #4)
by Karl Schroeder
🏆 Favorite Novel of 2021
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
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.
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.
- Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
An alt-history novel where Klan members are actual monsters.
- We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
A fun and violent fantasy based in a Khanganate-influenced setting. Refreshing.
- The Resisters: A Novel by Gish Jen
Dystopian baseball! But like, uplifting.
- We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
A funny sci-fi that ended up surprising me a lot more than I expected.
- Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Bennett is always good for a unique and fresh take on fantasy. This nearly made my top three.
- A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon
An investigator looks for a missing girl in a city divided by endless day and endless night.
- The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson
A drug-running revenge tale set deep in a swamp with a heavy helping of magic. Davidson is fast becoming a favorite of mine.
- Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery by Brom
Fantasy set in early-colonial America that plays with (and subverts) the hysteria surrounding witch trials. My favorite Brom novel. Nearly made my top three.
- Slow River by Nicola Griffith
Griffith somehow made water remediation cool.
- Revival by Stephen King
Easily King’s most Lovecraftian novel, and boy, it’s a grim one.
- The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder
Four books in, and Virga still manages to bestow that thrill of discovery. Wonderful novel.
💥 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.
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.”
- “Burning the Old Year”
by Naomi Shihab Nye
- “I Ask My Mother to Sing”
by Li-Young Lee
- “The Hill We Climb”
by Amanda Gorman
by Wendell Berry
- “Frederick Douglass”
by Robert Hayden
- “Strange Balance”
by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
- “For the Anniversary of My Death”
by W. S. Merwin
- “The End”
by Mark Strand
- “Good Bones” …again.
by Maggie Smith
- “Sorrow Home”
by Margaret Walker
- “What my 11 year old said when I was crying that day”
by Tetyana Denford
by Lynn Ungar
- “Here’s A Nut”
by Louisa May Alcott
- “The Second Coming” …again.
by William Butler Yeats
- “Down Jacket God”
by Moon Bo Young
by Matthew Zapruder
- “A Penitent Considers Another Coming of Mary”
by Gwendolyn Brooks
by Elizabeth Alexander
- “i am running into a new year”
by Lucille Clifton
- “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.
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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