Celeste’s Top 21 Books of the Year (2021)

Celeste’s Top 21 Books of the Year (2021)

At last, 2021 is drawing to a close.  Or, as I like to call it, 2020 part 2.  While the year wasn’t the best, I did have a pretty great reading year.  According to Goodreads, I read 110 books this year.  According to my own spreadsheet, I read 192.  That 82 book difference is comprised largely of various long, spicy romance series that I didn’t want to have to review because I was consuming them so quickly, so I made the decision to not include them on Goodreads.  But I wanted to acknowledge them here.  This was the year of the romance novel for me.  Romance has never been my genre of choice, but I found so much solace in it this year.  For the first time, I truly understand why there are so many dedicated romance readers out there, and now I happily consider myself one of them.  Four novels on this list are romances, in fact.

While I read a metric ton of romance, I think I read fairly widely this year.  This list includes fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and literary fiction.  One of the biggest common denominators on this list is actually Greek mythology.  I’ve always loved mythology, and this year I read some amazing books retelling some of those myths in fun and refreshing ways.  This is something I hope to find even more of next year.

As always, I’m following Petrik’s example here.
– One entry per author. (But not always only one book.  I’m cheating this year.  You’ll see what I mean.)
– Rereads aren’t included.
– The books on this list were new to me, not necessarily new. They might not have been published this year, but this was my first time reading them.
– All of these books were either 4.5 or 5 star reads for me.

Links to my Goodreads reviews of each book will be included below. And now, without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2021!

21.  Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #2 and #3 respectively) by Steven Erikson
(originally published in 2000 and 2001 by Tor Books)

I couldn’t choose between these two.  Both were intricate and powerful and incredibly devastating.  The vastness of the world Erikson has created in Malazan is astounding, and I know I’ve barely even scratched the surface.  The Chain of Dogs scene in Deadhouse Gates will probably forever be one of the most epic literary moments I’ve ever experienced, and there were some character moments in Memories of Ice that I’ll never forget.

20. Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian
(published September 7th, 2021 by Park Row Books)

Never Saw Me Coming would have never been on my radar if Emma hadn’t loved it so much.  I’m so glad she did, because this book was wild.  Seeing through the eyes of young psychopaths was an incredibly unique experience.  Chloe is a character who will stick with me for a long time.

19. Troy (Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology, #3) by Stephen Fry
(originally published in 2020 by Michael Joseph)

While I loved reading the hard copy of this book, I can’t recommend the audio highly enough.  There’s just nothing quite like having Stephen Fry in your ear, recounting Greek myths in a fun, light, refreshing way.  His voice is delightful, and hist storytelling style is just a joy to read.  This is the clearest, easiest to understand recounting of the events of The Iliad I’ve encountered to date.

18. Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children, #7) by Seanan McGuire
(expected publication: January 4th, 2022 by Tordotcom)

Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is this wonderful, rare balancing act between comforting and thought-provoking. Each installment is unique and offers something different in both story and topics to contemplate. But the central thread, the desire to find a place of our own and the need to Be Sure before we take the risky step out of our comfort zone and into a reality that fits us better, binds all of these stories into something even stronger together than they are individually. Where the Drowned Girls Go acts to solidify that tie while also telling a very compelling story in its own right. There’s something truly magical about McGuire’s writing and world building, and I’m already eagerly awaiting the eighth installment in the series.

17. Legacy by Nora Roberts
(published May 25th, 2021 by St. Martin’s Publishing Group)

I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I loved Legacy, and yet here we are.  Nora never disappoints.  She’s been my go-to comfort author for over half of my life (?!) now, and I don’t see that changing for as long as she continues to publish.  Her characters always win my heart, and I can always trust her to give me a happy ending. 

I also really loved The Becoming (The Dragon Heart Legacy, #2) and can’t wait for the final installment in the trilogy to drop next year.

16. Neon Gods (Dark Olympus, #1) by Katee Robert
(published June 1st, 2021 by Sourcebooks)

I grinned through the vast majority of Neon Gods. I was completely surprised by how squishy it made my heart, and how invested I was in the story. It’s a story I am already very familiar with, but I loved this new take on such a classic tale. And now I think I’m going to have to seek out more Hades and Persephone retellings.

15. The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn Saga, #1) by John Gwynne
(published May 4th, 2021 by Orbit)Shadow of the Gods

The Shadow of the Gods is a very promising start to what I’m sure is going to be another incredibly epic series from Gwynne. It’s a bit of a slow burn, though for many fantasy readers the constant bloodshed will more than make up for that. There were some surprising twists towards the end of the novel, and I really can’t wait to see what happens in the next installment.

14. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
(published May 4th, 2021 by Ballantine Books)

Yes, there was a crazy amount of science, but the aggressive optimism of the protagonist of Project Hail Mary won me over completely.  Reading about such hope and optimism in the face of impossible odds made me feel better about the world in which we’re living, and can we honestly ask anything more of our art and artists?  Project Hail Mary is oddly encouraging for a novel about the potential end of the world, and I think it was exactly what I needed.

13. Night Came With Many Stars by Simon Van Booy
(published June 8th, 2021 by David R. Godine Publisher)

I had few expectations of Night Came with Many Stars when I received the ARC on NetGalley. It’s not a book that had been on my radar at all; I hadn’t heard it mentioned on any of the sites and podcasts I follow for book news. I was immediately and completely captivated by the prose. But that’s not to say that said prose outshone the story itself, which was equally engaging. I knew very little about this book going in, and was pleased to discover that it was actually a multi-generational family saga. However, it’s a family saga presented in a way that felt fresh and unique. I ended up loving everything about it, and am so thankful for whatever serendipity brought it to my attention.

12. Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom
(originally published in 2012 by Harper Voyager)

I went into Krampus fully expecting a horror novel that ripped Christmas apart. What I got was wildly different and infinitely more powerful. This book was profound and though-provoking and so much more emotional than I anticipated. Strangely enough, Krampus ended up being one of my favorite books of the year, providing a depth and nuance to famous and infamous figures that surprised me, as well as giving me a cast of new characters to root for. I have never been more pleasantly surprised by a book with such a disturbing cover. Which was also done by Brom. The man is an incredible artist.

11. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
(originally published in 2018 by Flatiron Books)

Nine Perfect Strangers didn’t sound like it had much of a plot, if I’m being honest.  But this story had far more twists and turns than I expected.  And the characters were incredibly nuanced.  I loved the dichotomy between the internal realities of these characters and the near caricaturization of the same characters in the eyes of one another.  Seriously, this book was kind of brilliant.

10. The Great Library series by Rachel Caine
(originally published in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 by Berkley Books)

I couldn’t choose just one book out of The Great Library as a favorite.  I buddy-read this entire series with TS and Eon, and it was such a fun experience.  The world building of this series is incredible, and the cast of characters were so easy to root for.  I was invested from the first page of Ink and Bone to the last page of Sword and Pen.  Out of every YA series I’ve read in my life, this one has the best pacing and payoff.

9. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
(published May 11th, 2021 by Berkley Books)

I read/listened to this book in under 24 hours.  While I’m sure it would have been great in print alone, adding Julia Whelan’s narration made reading it a truly wonderful experience.  She did an incredible job breathing more life into already three-dimensional characters.  People We Meet on Vacation was delightful in every way.  The chemistry between Poppy and Alex was a ton of fun.

8. Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
(published in 2017 by Ecco)

I did not expect this book to win my heart as solidly as it did. As much fun as I had reading Nothing to See Here last year, Perfect Little World impacted me much more deeply. I adore Izzy and Dr. Grind and Mr. Tannehill and the entire setting of this story. They’re weird, the setting and premise are weird, but wonderfully so on all counts.

7. The Love Hypothesis (The Love Hypothesis, #1) by Ali Hazelwood
(published September 14th, 2021 by Berkley Books)

I loved everything about The Love Hypothesis. I physically hugged this book when I finished it, I loved it so much. It was bright and sweet and funny and felt like a warm hug from a new friend.  The banter was funny and fabulous, and the chemistry between Adam and Olive was off the charts.  This book made my face hurt from smiling so hard.

6. The Death of Dulgath (The Riyria Chronicles, #3) by Michael J. Sullivan
(published in 2017 by Riyria Enterprises, LLC)

This series is such a comfort read. If there’s such a thing as cozy fantasy, that’s how I would describe Riyria. I absolutely adore Hadrian and Royce, and getting to catch up with them made me incredibly happy. And so far, The Death of Dulgath is my favorite book in the series. It felt like there was a ton of character development in this book, especially in regards to Royce. There were also a couple of very well crafted new characters who I very much enjoyed.

5. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
(originally published in 2020 by Zaffre)

Emma, TS, and Petrik all loved We Begin at the End last year, and I knew it was a book I wanted to read. But they warned me that it was heartbreaking and, since I had been going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I held off until I felt like I was emotionally strong enough to handle it. I’m so glad I did, because I can say without a single qualm that it belongs on this list of favorite reads in 2021, but the heart-wrenching emotion of it would have kept it from the same list last year.  This book is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever read.  It was beautiful, and the characters were incredibly real, but it made my chest physically ache as I was reading.  It really pays to wait until the right moment to read this type of book, and I’m glad I had friends to caution me in that regard.

4. A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas
(originally published in 2016 by Bloomsbury USA)

I enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses much more than I expected. But I absolutely adored A Court of Mist and Fury. My expectations were a good bit higher going into this second book, but those expectations were obliterated. I can’t believe I waited so long to read this series. I might be the most reluctant of Maas converts, but I have been won over entirely. This book is one of the most addictive, well-paced, romantic things I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

3. The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
(originally published (in English) in 2018 by HarperCollins)

The Labyrinth of the Spirits was brilliant in every way, and made me retroactively love every other installment of the series even more.  It, and the three preceding books in hindsight, has to be among the most mind-blowing, intelligent, moving novels I’ve ever read in my entire life.  I’m so incredibly thankful to have read this series as a whole, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits in particular.  Zafón was an incredibly gifted author, and I’m so glad he was able to leave the world this magnum opus.   If I’m ever able to visit Spain, Barcelona will be the destination of me.  I hope someday I can wander the streets and wonder if another city, one comprised of paper and ink, is waiting for me beneath the cobblestones.

2. The Nevernight Chronicle by Jay Kristoff
(originally published in 2016, 2017, and 2019 by St. Martin’s Press)

If I have a favorite author of 2021, it’s definitely Kristoff.  All four of the books I read from him this year were solid 5 star reads.  I will read anything this man writes from here on out. All three books in The Nevernight Chronicle were fabulous, but if I had to choose a favorite I actually think it wold be the second in the series, GodsgraveThe gladiatorial games were the best I’ve ever read.  But Nevernight and Darkdawn were both incredible, as well.  And his newest release, Empire of the Vampiretotally blew me away.

1. Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann
(published May 4th, 2021 by Doubleday Books)

I loved everything about Olympus, Texas. The setting was believable, the character development was absolutely astounding, and the psychological insights into these timeless personalities will inform my views of them for the rest of my life. While I do feel like this would still be an incredibly compelling family drama for those who have no familiarity with Greek mythology, anyone who shares my fascination with Greek mythology should absolutely not pass on Olympus, Texas. Swann spent twelve years writing this book, her DEBUT NOVEL, might I add, and it really shows. This book is a masterpiece. Full stop.

(Honorable mentions go to: The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke; Black House by Stephen King; The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane; and Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane.  These books, while not ones I rated quite as highly, have stuck with me.)

I am so incredibly thankful for all of the amazing books and wonderful authors I discovered this year, and for all those I’ve loved for years who didn’t let me down. Here’s to hoping that my 2022 will blow 2021 out of the water in every good way imaginable. Happy New Year, and happy reading!

2 thoughts on “Celeste’s Top 21 Books of the Year (2021)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *