2021 in Books

According to Goodreads, in 2021 I read 118 books (almost 38,000 pages). This does not include the 10 books I didn’t finish. It does include a few cookbooks and a couple of novellas. As always, it was mostly ebooks (99 to be precise) and most of them were from DCPL. Most of the print books I read came from my neighborhood indie, Loyalty Bookstores, by way of Bookshop.

This is up from 84 books in 2020, and can be attributed to the five months that I wasn’t working, plus a good habit of reading instead of doomscrolling, which I need to revive. (I seem to have replaced scrolling Twitter with scrolling hobby-realted subreddits.)

I read 33 books by authors of color, down from 41 last year. I still struggle with exactly how to tag that on Goodreads, and sometimes how to figure out if an author identifies as a person of color to begin with. I’m going to continue doing the best I can with that, and put more energy into identifying books by non-white authors to begin with.

Here are my highest-rated novels of the year, in no particular order:

  • Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam
  • All’s Well, Mona Awad
  • Foul is Fair, Hannah Capin
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built and The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, both by Becky Chambers
  • American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
  • The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailley
  • The Survivors, Jane Harper
  • The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea, T.J. Klune
  • The Spellman Files, Lisa Lutz
  • Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Serpent Sea and The Cloud Roads, both by Martha Wells

And highest-rated nonfiction:

  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • The Customer of the Future, Blake Morgan


September 2021 Reads

The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells: A little tropey at first, but really fun and engrossing.

No Hard Feelings, Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy: I didn’t get much out of this, but I’m also not sure what I thought I would get out of it. Would be great for someone new to the working world, though.

Somebody’s Daughter, Ashley C. Ford: Beautiful and brutal, and a lesson in how to extend grace to those who fail us.

The Book of Accidents, Chuck Wendig: 1980’s Stephen King vibes, I dig it.

Dead Dead Girls, Nekesa Afia: I wanted to love this but during the last 25% it fell apart for me.

Velvet Was the Night, Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Really fun noir, I enjoyed the archetypal characters.

Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory; Martha Wells: A Murderbot short story best read in between Exit Strategy and Network Effect.

The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan: Really enjoyed this, even if there was a tad too much going on.

The Sisters and The Roommate, Dervla McTiernan: Audiobook prequels to The Ruin. Cormac isn’t the focus of these, most of the characters are women. Really lovely to listen to, despite the thriller aspects.

Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace: A Gen X misanthropic outcast is an elite member of a far-future ghost-destroying cult. What could possibly go wrong?

Emergency Skin, N.K. Jemisin: A short story with a ton of worldbuilding. Definitely get the audiobook.

If you only read one, make it either The Ruin or Archivist Wasp.

The Month in Books: August 2021

Infinite Detail, Tim Maughan: Great story with interesting characters, but I needed just a little bit more worldbuilding.

All’s Well, Mona Awad: The way this builds is just beautiful, and the ending was perfectly in tune wiht the mood the book had set.

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, Rivka Galchen: I found this one a little hard to follow for some reason, which was disappointing because I was ready to love it.

Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyen: Beautiful writing, and I liked the steady hops through time.

The Last Thing He Told Me, Laura Dave: I had some issues with some unlikely turns of the story and some moments where things did not make sense.

And I Do Not Forgive You, Amber Sparks: An interesting collection of short fiction, some I’d call experimental. It doesn’t all work, but if you just want to go along for the ride it can be fun.

Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada Calhoun: I found the approach to be too scattershot and I take issue with this being a generational problem.

Broken, Don Winslow: A great collection of crime and thriller novellas, with some exaggerated aspects that were fun in short fiction.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers: A delightful, charming story with a calm vibe and a philosophical mood.

They All Fall Down, Rachel Howzell Hall: If you love a narrator with a persecution complex who is constantly in an anxiety spiral, this is the book for you. If you do not, then like me you will not enjoy this one.

The Lost Apothecary, Sarah Penner: You would not miss it if one of the main characters edited out, and in fact it would have been a better book for it.

The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste: Gorgeous writing, but I found it a struggle to get through.

If you only read one, consult your mood and then pick up either All’s Well or A Psalm for the Wild-Built.

July 2021 Reads

  • The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix: A bit too much misongyny here for my tastes.
  • A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, Alex White: Summer popcorn movie type of book. Lots of reliance on archetypes to fill in for character development.
  • We Ride Upon Sticks, Quan Barry: 1980’s women’s high school field hockey meets witchcraft. So fun.
  • Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen: Charming and light. Would be better as a movie.
  • Dial A for Aunties, Jesse Q. Sutano: If you go into this knowing that it is going to jump the shark more than once, you’ll probably enjoy it a bit more than I did.
  • White Fragility, Robin Diangelo: I’m really not sure who this is for, and I think some of the self-disclosure isn’t really shoring up the points in the way the author thinks.
  • Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson: This didn’t work for me, needed a little more character development.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir: The main character in this is very excitable.
  • The Effortless Experience, Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, & Rick DeLisi: A re-read; great for thinking about why your customers are or are not loyal to your brand or product.
  • Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong: Sometimes I was really drawn into this, other times not. I think the format just didn’t work for me.
  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse: There’s a lot going on here but it’s really well done.

If you only read one, I’d make it We Ride Upon Sticks, even if you didn’t grow up in Massachusetts in the 80s or 90s.

June 2021 Reads

  • Sorrowland, Rivers Solomon: The ending was a bit abrupt, but I enjoyed the weirdness of this one.
  • The Curated Closet, Anuschka Rees: A lot of really helpful tools to think about your wardrobe from standpoints of style, flexibility, and number of pieces. (Spoiler: No black trousers and white button-downs required.)
  • In The Quick, Kate Hope Day: Not what I expected.
  • Meet Me in Another Life, Catriona Silvey: Really liked how the texture of this one slowly shifts.
  • Simply Julia, Julia Turshen: Several recipes caught my eye, and I made two of them almost right away. Delicious!
  • Lean Six Sigma for Dummies, John A. Morgan: Seemd like a good intro, though I don’t think it was enough to really apply the principles to the more complex service workflows I’m used to.
  • Detransition, Baby, Torrey Peters: This is a little light on plot, but the characters are wonderful. Captured the whiplash of feelings in the wake of major life events well.
  • The Customer of the Future, Blake Morgan: An excellent framework to help shift to being customer-focused.
  • No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood: Make sure you understand what you’re getting into with this one, it’ll be easier to settle in.
  • The Valley and the Flood, Rebecca Mahoney: This didn’t work very well for me, something was missing.
  • The Infinite Blacktop, Sara Gran: Oh Claire DeWitt. What are you doing!?

If you only read one, make it Meet Me In Another Life.

May 2021 Reads

  • American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins: Really loved how Cummins slowly built the tension in this, layer by layer.
  • The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey: Weird and unputdownable domestic thriller with a sci-fi bent.
  • The Effort, Claire Holroyd: Really intersteing but suffered a bit for one too many side plots.
  • A People’s Future of the United States: This was full of great stories, I had a long list of ones that I particularly liked.
  • She Come by It Natural, Sarah Smarsh: A great bio of Dolly Parton, but I wanted a little more depth. (That said, this was an essay series that she got published, so it’s naturally going to be a bit shorter.)
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander: You’ll leave this with a much clearer understanding of the scope and scale of the War on Drugs and resultant mass incarceration of Black men.
  • Fugitive Telemetry, Martha Wells: Murderbot and the Locked Room Mystery. Fun stuff, as usual!
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Christopher Paolini: My occasional reminder to see how long the print version is when I’m reading the ebook and am not super into it. This was not good enough for how long it was.
  • Quiet in her Bones, Nalini Singh: Murder mystery featuring some pretty intense paranoia at times.
  • Foul is Fair, Hannah Capin: This was intense and I was HERE for the absolute ruthlessness of the teenage girls at the centor of it. (Recommend a quick re-read or re-watch of Macbeth first.)
  • The Psychology of Time Travel, Kate Mascarenhas: Good but a little thin on the main concept.
  • Milk Blood Heat, Dantiel W. Moniz: A series of stories that are dark, melancholy, and end without a resolution.
  • A Beginning at the End, Mike Chen: Really enjoyed the focus of this and the characters, though I think it would have been even better if it was tightned up a bit. (FYI it is a post-pandemic universe, with some authoritarian undertones to the new government structures.)
  • The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman: Folks at a British retirement home investigate a murder. Delightful.
  • A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes: Another look at the Trojan War, through the eyes of the women.

April 2021 Books

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers: Another great installment in the Wayfarers series, which I’ve really enjoyed. (She was recently on the podcast Imaginary Worlds discussing a bit of how it came to be.) The world she’s created is really rich and I’ve especitlaly enjoyed how they aren’t human-centered stories.

How Much of These Hills is Gold, C. Pam Zhang: Melancholy and absorbing.

Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam: I loved the slow build of this one.

The Mothers, Brit Bennett: A story about how some choices will never leave you, and what that can really mean.

Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang: I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected. Some of the stories were a little flat; there wasn’t enough to them beyond the “what if” of the concept.

Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey: This was really fun, but I wish there’d been a bit more to it.

March 2021 Books

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab: This was lovely, and I liked how the chapters wove the story together.

The Guest List, Lucy Foley: Very fast-paced and absorbing.

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran: This was good, with the exception of a drug addiction subplot that I found kind of distracting.

The New Wilderness, Diane Cook: I got a little distracted at times by some inconsistencies in the plot.

And Now She’s Gone, Rachel Howzell Hall: I really wanted to like this more than I did but I just . . . didn’t.

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Peterson: This was good, but I think it would have been better if it wasn’t framed around Millennials. She’s essentially discussing the state of work, capitalism, productivity culture, etc. There are definitely some ways Millennials were set up for a world that was simultaneously being dismantled, but it’s impacting all of us.

Long Bright River, Liz Moore: I wanted the protagonist to be better developed so I could understand why they made some of the questionable choices they made.

A Burning, Megha Majumdar: For me, the balance of politics against character development was a little off.

Crosshairs, Catherine Hernandez: Scarily possible, with an uplifting but ambiguous ending.

Earthlings, Sayaka Murata: This was something else. If you are interseted in this, please seek out the content warnings for it first.

If you only read one, I’d recommend The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue or Crosshairs.

February 2021 Books

  • Plain Bad Heroines, Emily M. Danforth: A book about a movie about a book about a creepy old girls’ school. Fun characters.
  • The Other Bennet Sister, Janice Hadlow: Turns out Mary Bennet is a delightful young woman.
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Clune: Delightful! Also I immediately pictured one of the main chracters as Newton Pulsifer from Good Omens and let me tell you, it worked perfectly.
  • The Resisters, Gish Jen: This was a little uneven for me.
  • Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food, Hsaio-Ching Chou: Lots of tasty-looking recipies, but when this library hold came in I wasn’t feeling particularly like I wanted to try new recipies.
  • Beowulf, Maria Dahvana Headley: Big bro energy, very fun to read.
  • The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow: This was so great, I loved how the relationships between the sisters evolve. I really hope someone options this for a limited series.
  • The Survivors, Jane Harper: A big, messy plot contained by a small beach town. So good.
  • Burnout, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski: Very informative and very validating.

January 2021 Books

  • The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller: Wish I’d read this sooner after I finished The Silence of the Girls.
  • Scribe, Alyson Hagy: Unsatisfying.
  • The Terranauts, T. Coraghessan Boyle: ’90s biosphere drama. Good, but a bit too long.
  • The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates: Really enjoyed watching the protagonist realize that not everything is what it seems to be.
  • Cinder, Marissa Meyer: Very fun cyberpunky Cinderella story.
  • The Midnight Library, Matt Haig: Awesome concept, fun read.
  • The New Plant Parent, Darryl Cheng: I picked up one or two good tips but this is truly for a newbie to houseplants.
  • Dear Miss Kopp, Amy Stewart: Continue to love this series.
  • Still Life with Murder, P.B. Ryan: This was fine. First in a series but not sure I liked it quite enough to continue. Also not sure why it was on my kindle.
  • Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots: Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a supervillian’s henchperson? Why not?
  • Scarlet, Marissa Meyer: Sequel to Cinder, not quite as engaging.
  • A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, Hank Green: This needed just a little more reminder about where we left off with book one. I had a hard time connecting the dots.

If you only read one, pick up Hench or The Song of Achilles.