Time for my favorite year end activity! The delightful and agonizing task of looking back at a year’s worth of reading and picking out my top ten favorite books I read. This year’s reading goal was 100 books, which I am very unlikely to meet. I have read 95 books and am likely to read one more graphic novel. Unlike last year where I just lost an interest in reading as the pandemic intensified, this year I did plenty of reading. However, what did happen was a number of times I spent days reading something and then gave up on it. I was so excited to get the newest Liane Moriarty as a pre-pub and I never even read it. So I guess I’m not quite back to my normal reading habits.
When I go to create my top 10 list the first thing I do is sort my year’s books by their ratings (in Goodreads, my ratings.) This year I had 31 5 star reads! That’s 1/3 of the books I read this year! and I thought that this year I was lot more open to giving out 3 stars (and even handing out a mere 2 stars to one book) and more cautious with the 5 stars. All of my rereads were 5 stars, which just makes sense. I also had a handful of children’s books that were 5 stars, including a reread (shoutout to Fake Mustache! which I suppose is really more of a 4 star book but it’s got sentimental value inflating its rating) and one book which will likely make it to the final 10 list. Shall we get right to the top list before looking back at some other categories? Yes? OK, then.
After much agonizing I managed to get it down to 12 books that I would say were my favorite books of the year. The runners up were all 5 star books that I really enjoyed (esp the J.Courtney Sullivan, which I hated to demote to runner up). I am also finagling my list by removing children’s books from it, though the fact is that if you asked me truly which books I most remembered from 2021, it would include those top children’s books, perhaps even before some of the adult books (for example, I loved and highly rated the Nick Hornby book, but had forgotten all about it. I have not forgotten reading Starfish. So maybe in that case one book is not better than the other, but more memorable to me.)
**In no particular order, my favorite books read in 2021 (title links are to my original review)**
The Martian by Andy Weir–That’s right, I never read this book before this spring when I read it immediately after watching (and loving) the film version. I was so caught up in this book I remember not leaving my chair. I loved the fast pace, the adventure, the science. I was excited to read it this year when he had a new book coming out.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir- is this the first time 2 precious spots have been given to the same author? Not sure. I read this very soon after The Martian and the writing style was exactly the same, which I loved. This was some serious science fiction and I was there for every single bit of it. Made me look at the night sky differently for the rest of the year.
The No Show Beth O’Leary-I believe this isn’t even coming out until spring 2022 and I was fortunate to get a prepub to read. Even stranger–I didn’t even finish The Road Trip, which I’d looked forward to for months, but then I picked this up and read it straight through. This was an especially good reading experience because I had no idea what the book was going to be about and was, therefore, totally surprised by everything. I loved the characters and the crafting of the story. Really excellent.
Mercy Street Jennifer Haigh–Ditto getting this as a prepub and not reading anything about it ahead of time. I was so immersed in this gratifyingly long novel. As our country is already cruelly revoking abortion rights, I wish everyone would read this book. It’s also not just a story about abortion and health clinics. I loved the characters and their own stories (multiple p.o.v s) and Haigh’s writing style was same as in Baker Towers, which I love.
The Incredible Winston Browne by Sean Dietrich–my mom handed this to me telling me I’d love it and she was right. It was so touching and heartwarming. Just a real feel good story. Made me think about Billie Letts and Lorna Landvik-small town stories with good people in them. (Read the final chapter in a semi-public area with tears running down my face.)
Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny– [just looked up Heiny and isn’t it funny that she also appeared on my 2017 top ten, along with J. Courtney Sullivan and Jennifer Ryan books and both of those authors were also on this top ten list (but got demoted to runner up.)] Another small town with quirky characters (yeah, some might be a bit over the top) and a touching story. As with Heiny’s Standard Deviation I enjoyed her way of writing and describing characters. I found myself really responding to stories this year that showed the joys and sadness in life, and this was one of them.
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons–“This had a strong Man Called Ove theme and feel about it-somewhat cranky old person perfectly willing to end her life. ” This book really stayed with me, particularly thinking about death and how we approach it and respond to it. Heartwarming and thoughtful. Another book I loved this year was They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. You’d think both of these death heavy books would have brought me down, but they didn’t. On the contrary I found them life affirming and beautiful.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau–Damn, this was a fun book. 1970s Baltimore, sex drugs rock n’ roll, coming of age. Kind of Almost Famous, kind of Dazed and Confused. I loved the contrasts of Mary Jane’s incredibly conservative life with the wild other end of the spectrum. (And realistically, it was fun to read about but if my young teen was exposed to the things Mary Jane was I’d have a conniption fit.) I was satisfied with the neat ending of the story-that fit into a summer, that it really was like looking at this bubble of time.
The Guncle by Stephen Rowley–I wanted to not like this just because everyone else did and also I hate the title. But I got sucked right into this sweet story that wasn’t all sweetness. It really was a story of grief and life and it also had a lot of funny moments in it.
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne– Fun, sexy, kooky old people, endangered tortoises. I just really enjoyed this.
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub–The only time travel book to make the top list this year! This was an immediate 5 star for me even though Melissa read it at the same time and gave it a mere 3 stars. I found the time travel elements very satisfying and I found all the thoughtful observations about life also satisfying.
This Time Next Year Sophie Cousens– I love stories of characters whose lives crossed paths without them knowing it and this one was top notch fun. Romantic and clever.
I’d like to give a special commendation to a trilogy which, if I’m honest, was even more delightful to read and an even more memorable reading experience for me than some of these Top Ten. The Kingdoms & Empires trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty. This was comprised of The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst, The Whispering Wars, and The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Originally I said “I haven’t been this entertained by a book in a long time.” and “there was just something about the story, the setting (boarding school) and the storyteller’s voice that I loved.” Each book was a fun fantasy adventure that I loved and found very clever. I also desperately felt the need to own the whole trilogy. So really, I think this deserves to be on the list.
The Runners Up: 5 star books that didn’t make the list. I loved them but found them either slighly less memorable than those on the list or slightly less enjoyable to read:
Friends and Strangers J Courtney Sullivan
Just Like You Nick Hornby
The Kitchen Front Jennifer Ryan
The Rose Code Kate Quinn
The last two there were probably my favorite historical fiction of the year. I also liked Band of Sisters, which was WWI, and very historically interesting to me. It was not a quick romp of a read, though.
And here are a group of 4 star books that on reflection I like a little more than some of the 5 star books (not the ones listed above)–Dear Emmie Blue, Very Sincerely Yours, Little Wonders, Last Letter from Your Lover (an old JoJo Moyes I’d overlooked) [Not sure why Dear Emmie Blue got 5 stars and Second First Impressions got 5. I mean, I basically felt the same way about both of them and they had a similar vibe.]
This year I reread the entire Leviathan trilogy (most satisfying to read them all in a row), Elsewhere (I love a good afterlife book), and my most favorite precious old book to revisit periodically–Ladder of Years. It will always be 5 stars to me.
In the children’s books category I loved Charlie Thorne and the Lost City, Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City, and Starfish. I also read a lot of children’s graphic novels. I especially liked Oh My Gods, Snapdragon, Secrets of Camp Whatever, and Katie the Catsitter.
I only read two time travel books: This Time Tomorrow and And Then She Vanished.
I read three complete trilogies reading books 1-3 all in a row–Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, The Overthrow by Kenneth Oppel (full on creepy sci-fi), and Kingdoms & Empires by Jaclyn Moriarty.
There were some disappointments (besides the aforementioned starting books and not bothering to finishe them). I was excited to read TWO new Mike Chens and gave them each just 3 stars. I liked them but they weren’t standouts at all for me. Looking back I had forgotten all about Ready Player Two. Ready Player One is a favorite of mine and this unnecessary sequel still garnered for 4 stars from me, but was disappointing.
I have no special reading goals for next year (other than to perhaps set a reading goal of less than 100 since it seems like I can’t hit that anymore!) As usual I will reread familiar old stories that I’ve loved and read what catches my eye. Some books I’ll read and love and immediately forget about it, and others will stay with me for years to come. Here’s to another year of discoving those gems!