Best Book Picks of 2021

Ah, 2021, I'm glad you're over, but with all the staying inside and whatnot, I had a lot of time to read, so that's a bonus.  In 2021 I read a total of 73 books! I think that's a record for me.  Even so, my daughter, who is a voracious reader, beat me at 96 books, so I'm going to have to up my game.  Just kidding!  I'm happy to let her take our household record.  It was fun this week to reflect on what I'd read, the books I loved and the not so great ones too.  Do note that these are the best of the books I read last year, not those that were published in 2021; I had a mix of the two.  I made up whatever categories I wanted, so without further ado...

Best Book

Piranesi by Susanna Clark

This novel had amazing world building in a totally unique way.  It was a compelling read despite its simplicity with a dreamy quality and a neat contemplation of the human condition.  This won the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction.  There was so much skill in the writing and so much wonder in the reading of this slim volume, that it has stuck with me for months.  

Best Horror

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

What fun, campy horror!  One device in books that makes me sit up and pay attention is when an author sets the novel in our world but tweaks just one small thing to shift reality in a really cool way.  Hendrix did this for his latest book and it so worked for me.  I've become a fan of Grady Hendrix.  His other standout I read this year was My Best Friend's Exorcism.  

Best Thriller

Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide

My daughter recommended this to me, and I'm so glad she did.  We both loved it, and it ended up on her most loved 2021 list as well.  This book takes the win for the most surprising plot twist/reveal this year.  My mouth was hanging open mid-book and things quickly took a darker turn.  It reminded me of a Jordan Peele movie in book form.  Also, I love the cover art.  

Best Sci-Fi

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

This took the win for the Goodreads Choice Awards Science Fiction category for 2021.  It was well-deserved in my opinion (I voted for it so that must've nudged it over the line).  It was just total fun problem deep space!...with constant crises!...for 496 pages!  

Best Fantasy

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I'm not actually a big fantasy fan (sorry to all of you hardcore fantasy lovers out there), but I can get into a compellingly written, complex alternate world where really cool characters have interesting challenges, both personal and heist-related, to overcome.  The plot is driven and complex, the characters have decent depth and the relationships are as important as the heist.  I read all of the novels in Bardugo's Grishaverse this year, and I liked Six of Crows the best.  

Best Classic

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster 

Published in 1908, this was my introduction to Forster's writing, again at the urging of my daughter, who is a Forster fan. It amazed me how apropos to current society his observations were, and there were great quotes left and right. "Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice..." is one such quote, and seems to apply completely to my own life.  Read in main character Lucy's narrative in Chapter 14, it brings me right back to the uncertainty of youth. More E.M Forster is on my TBR.

Best Non-Fiction

Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig

I picked this book out to complete a reading challenge that I did in 2021 (Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge--check it out!) This was a thought-provoking memoir/essay collection from a disability advocate that challenged my able-bodied world view. She has a physical disability, but she also gave space to those with invisible disabilities. ‌‌

Best Romance

Seriously, nothing much.  I tried, but I DNF'ed a few.  Sigh...

Best Achievement in Reading

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Ok, wow, that was long. It helped to read along with Tolstoy Together. It was so great to do this and kept it manageable. I actually found this classic tome very worthwhile. I had also watched the 2016 TV series.  I can read long books alone, but its so much more fun to do it with an internet community.  Honourable mention in this category goes to Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, which I think was about 150 pages too long.  

Complete List of 4 and 5 Star Reads of 2021

Because I want to give a shout out to all my 4 and 5 star reads this year!  

2021 5/5 star reads (I'm stingy with my 5 star ratings, so there were only 2): 
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Boys of Alabama‌‌ by Genevieve Hudson
2021 4/5 star reads 
  • At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop (2021 International Booker Prize winner)
  • Reprieve by James Han Mattson
  • Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide
  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  • Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris, Jeff Warren and Carlye Adler
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow
  • Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
  • A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  • The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
  • Deacon King Kong by James McBride
  • Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots