My 2021 in Reading: That’s a Lot of Things, Jo

I read 198 books this year in a split of: 39 ARCs, 59 audiobooks, 85 manga volumes, 9 physical copies, 2 light novels, and 6 eBooks. As my boyfriend said, “That’s a lot of things, Jo.” It is that time of year where I want to share my favorites, so please enjoy my top 20 2021 books, top 20 books from before 2021, and, a new feature, 5 manga.

I realize that I make lists for books I’m excited for and book I want to read, and failed on both those lists. So, my lists for 2022 books is mostly about boosting others works regardless of if I personally get around to reading them. That’s just how it is when you’re employed and vastly mis-measure what kind of focus you’ll have as the year goes on. Moving also robbed me of a bunch of my focus, which should not have been as surprising as it is. On top of working full time. On top of being in a relationship and trying to participate in the communities I’m a part of.

“That’s a lot of things,” indeed, self.

Top 20 Lists

Books are in alphabetical order. Any book marked with an * means that it was featured in the 2021 Bookish Hype Train Post.

Books That Came Out in 2021

  1. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
    • Robot and monk stop to discuss the meaning of life in a decayed world
    • The only book I’d truly consider kind
  2. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
    • Incredible set of case studies of Russian short stories
    • New favorite craft book
  3. Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
    • Girl goes to a magical summer camp to follow in her missing brother’s footsteps
    • Scratched that Artemis Fowl itch for me
  4. Butcherbird by Cassie Hart
    • Haunted house is also haunted by collective family drama
    • Birds are hecking terrifying
  5. Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
    • The intersection of marketing and pharmaceuticals telling the origins of valium and oxycontin
    • Big Succession vibes, except with very real-world consequences
  6. Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
    • A young woman befriends a fire spirit to save herself from her mother and girlfriend
    • Heart-wrenching with gorgeous, dense prose
  7. Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur
    • A physicist is haunted by folktales both real and metaphorical
    • Oscar Gantelius is the greatest love interest
  8. House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
    • Two sisters seek out their third sister after she randomly disappears
    • Features everything horrifying about fairy tales
  9. Leather & Lace by Magen Cubed
    • Thick-bottomed cowboy and nonbinary vampire monster hunters
    • Best friends to lovers with a compelling murder mystery
  10. Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey Into the Dark Antarctic Night by Julian Sancton
    • Belgian expedition to find the South Pole that also includes Frederick Cooke for reasons
    • The madhouse starts way before the get to Antarctica
  11. Muted by Tami Charles
    • Novel-in-verse about a girl getting caught up in the manipulative trappings of a fictional famous R&B star
    • Pulls no punches in the ways it exposes the dark side of the music industry
  12. Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha
    • Dystopian sci-fi about the kids fighting back to save themselves, not so much the world around them
    • Crisp prose with sharp characters
  13. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan*
    • Genderqueer girl monk becomes an emperor
    • Features so many epic scenes and tropes I enjoy
  14. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo*
    • Jordan Baker is a queer Vietnamese adoptee socialite having a disaster summer
    • The only version of The Great Gatsby anyone should ever read ever
  15. The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Elizabeth Laurie Flynn
    • Woman goes back to college reunion and the flashbacks tell of a terrible thing that happened during her time at school
    • Spoiler alert: the girls are quite nasty
  16. The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska
    • Three servants of three witches go to hunt a pure prince for his heart
    • Sapphic rivals to lovers that was too much fun to read
  17. The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore*
    • Two students were assaulted at the same party and one of them arrives as the new transfer student
    • Beautifully honest in its depiction of recovery, survival, and healing
  18. The Project by Courtney Summers
    • One sister who escaped a cult is searching for the other who is still indoctrinated
    • Brutally true-to-life and clearly well-researched
  19. What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson
    • A boy’s mother dies and he wants to keep it so that he and his brother do not go into foster care; a scoundrel has a different idea
    • Who people are and what they need to do to survive might be uglier than initially expected
  20. Year of the Nurse by Cassandra Alexander, RN
    • A harrowing, honest memoir about being a nurse during the COVID pandemic
    • Necessary, but difficult to read

Books That Came Out Before 2021

Just like last year (and probably moving forward), I will be featuring books I really enjoyed in a separate list that came before 2021. Here they are:

  1. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2016)
    • Phenomenal blend of ethnography, botany, and linguistics
    • Steeped in patience and passion
  2. The Good Girls by Claire Eliza Bartlett (2020)
    • Satisfying mystery with even greater catharsis
    • Complex, compelling, and complicated in the best way
  3. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold (2017)*
    • This book is a case study of repetition to great effect
    • Mothers and girlhood are complicated and intricate
  4. Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (2020)
    • Captivating, funny, and anecdotal telling of the world in relation to whales
    • Every sea monster was a trapped whale or a dork
  5. Lakewood by Megan Giddings (2020)
    • It’s like if A Cure for Wellness came with millennial-focused social commentary
    • Terrifying in deeply realistic ways
  6. The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (2019)
    • Phenomenal use of multi-media to tell a story
    • Perspectives shifts to greatly impact the tension
  7. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple by Jeff Guinn (2017)
    • Required reading for anyone interested in cults in their fiction
    • Starts off with the massacre and contextualizes everything working backwards
  8. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (1959)
    • Traveling down south to the Antarctic is more terrifying than the Arctic
    • Everyone survived this one
  9. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter (2019)
    • Metal as fuck with complicatedly angry characters and a parallel demon dimension
    • Found myself squealing with each new, intense action sequence
  10. The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo (2006)
    • Fascinating account of the shitshow that was New York City in the 1980’s from the perspective of one hitman
    • Not necessarily the best book craft-wise, but it did inspire me to write an entire novella so on the list it goes
  11. Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (2018)
    • Everyone sucks in this one but you can’t stop looking away
    • Glittering, glamorous, absolutely harrowing
  12. The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez by Rudy Ruiz (2020)
    • Death is not the end as Fulgencio Ramirez tries to win back the girl he loves
    • Romantic, bittersweet, and playful, a really fun read
  13. God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795 by Norman Davies (1981)
    • Forget everything you think you know about Europe, Poland is different
    • Full of maps, anecdotes, family lines, absolutely fascinating
  14. Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs by Douglas Smith (2016)
    • The longest book I read this year covers way more than just Rasputin’s biography
    • I’m not saying he did nothing wrong, but he certainly wasn’t the antichrist
  15. Boogiepop and Others by Kouhei Kadono & Kouji Ogata (2006)
    • Slipstreamy as students disappear from school and no one is sure if the gender-fuck phantom is the book guy
    • Scary and engrossing
  16. Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time by Michael Palin (2018)
    • Palin’s enthusiasm for the subject matter leaps off the words
    • This ship went everywhere and I’m glad they found it eventually
  17. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (2000)
    • Herman Melville heard this story and went on the write Moby Dick and I totally get it
    • Captivating account where not a whole lot of people survive after it feels like a whale gets its revenge
  18. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (2018)
    • Middle grade horror about kids disappearing in new and inventive ways
    • The whole trilogy is a delight
  19. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (2018)
    • All about returning to tradition when the modern world fails
    • Scary in ways that feel true to life
  20. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (2020)
    • Still thinking about the use of language and dehumanization in this one
    • Society turned to human meat thanks to a virus

Top 5 Manga

This is a new list, as I’ve rekindled my love of manga and want to share my top 5 faves that I’ve read this year (in various degrees of progress).

  1. Dai Dark Vol 1-3 by Q Hayashida (2021)
    • Skeletons in space
    • Hilarious and body-horrifying
  2. Happiness Vol 1-10 by Shūzō Oshimi (2015-2019)
    • Vampires a la Let the Right One In
    • Made me feel many things with the hopeful ending
  3. Made in Abyss Vol 1-9 by Akihito Tsukushi (2018-2021)
    • Kids go on an adventure down a really deep hole to find her mom
    • Upsetting on a whole variety of fronts
  4. Mieruko-Chan Vol 1-4 by Tomoki Izumi (2020-2021)
    • Local school sees scary ghosts and would very much not like to see scary ghosts
    • The ghosts are absolutely terrifying, but it’s also hilarious
  5. No. 6 Vol 1-5 by Atsuko Asano & Hinoki Kino (2013-2014)
    • Dystopia where every disease is cured (or is it?)
    • The boys kiss and are very angsty

Authors I’ve Interviewed This Year

Here’s a recap of all the Blog Interviews I did, listed alphabetical by author name.

What are some of your favorite reads? Tell me about your year in reading.

Happy reading and Happy New Year,

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