Books read in 2021
With the end of the year upon us, I figure it’s time to commit to my books read in 2021 list. Last year I believe I did something similar, if not, I should have. In any case, every year as part of my “lazy goals” I challenge myself to read a certain number of books. The purpose is to stop and relax from time to time. Or just to carve out a couple of hours to enjoy reading a good story, well hopefully good. Want to read something, but aren’t sure what? Don’t worry, I have some recommendations!
Last year I set a goal of reading 20 books. That felt ambitious since I don’t normally find myself having enough time to read, but I managed to read 26. Since I obviously undershot, I thought this year I would aim for 30. I know some people will shoot for a book a week, but that feels like a lot of work and I would rather aim lower and not feel rushed. I like taking my time reading so sometimes a book will take a few days sometimes it will take a whole month. That of course is also a function of how long the book is, some are far longer than others.
Now for the big reveal! The goal was 30 and I managed 39, I wanted to hit an even 40, but that wasn’t in the cards this year. I think part of the increase in reading productivity came from the fact that I had a few longer series picked out so there was no break between finishing one book and finding a new one to start. The other factor was my recent surgery, where I managed to read three or four books in a single week. Mostly because I was forced to just lay there, but also because the books I was reading were really good.
I won’t cover each book individually, at almost 40 books I could do a book review every day for over a month before we got through them all. Instead I’ll highlight some of the series I’ve read, since I try to find a series instead of individual books typically. I do that because I get sucked into the world of the book and then when I finish I feel a little hungover jumping into a new unfamiliar world, so to minimize that feeling I try to find longer series of books. Three or more if I can find something that interests me is usually what I’m aiming for. Rereading this, it’s long! So I bolded each book title to make it easier to skim.
That said, the first book on the list is just that, a single book. I would be remiss to not mention it though because I absolutely love the book, the author, and the books she’s written. The book Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, last year I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and was blown away. That book was incredibly long, detailed, and in my opinion one of the best world building experiences I’ve read. So when, after a brief hiatus due to illness, she released a much shorter (by comparison) Piranesi I was ecstatic to get another glimpse into her mind.
I won’t go into detail about the book, but it starts off with the narrator in a foreign and very confusing place. It’s a house unlike anything you would ever imagine, never ending, empty, and somewhat flooded. There are secrets in this house, waiting for us to figure them out. We don’t know much about the narrator because the narrator honestly doesn’t know much about himself, but as the story progresses it becomes apparent that something happened to our narrator. There is strange magic happening in this world, and it sticks with you well after you finish the book. Could the house be alive? We don’t know, but as the narrator will tell you, “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”
If it hasn’t become obvious, I like stories with strong world building. Fantasy and Sci-fi are my favorite, but a good book has a believable world. When I picked up the Hell’s Library trilogy by A.J. Hackwith, only two of the three books were written, but I only needed one to know it was going to be a good story (since then the third has been released, and I read it immediately). The premise starts off simple enough, there is a library in hell, the library of the unwritten. However, this library isn’t part of hell and the people who work there aren’t condemned, well maybe they are, but it depends on who you ask.
Stories have a life of their own, as anyone who’s picked up a book they really enjoy knows. So what’s keeping those stories on the page? Sometimes in this library a book will have an idea of its own, want its story to be told and come to life. The job of the librarian is to stop the book and keep things tidy, or so we’re told. But there are more things between heaven and hell than just our books and with both heaven and hell taking interest, what happens to a library full of workers — most of whom don’t even know why they are there to begin with — when powers far greater want the libraries secrets?
At five books long The Great Library series by Rachel Caine gives you a rich world and a detailed, well throughout story. Yes, I’m a fan of books about libraries, sue me, libraries are amazing and the architecture and contents of an actual library is a magical world of its own. We learn that books are highly regulated, so regulated that people own blank books that are filled by the great library when you request one. This makes actual, physical, non-magical books very rare. Where there is rarity there are black markets and that is where our story begins. Without giving too much away, our main character is thrust into a world where he just wants to read, but is living in a world where knowledge is dangerous and the great library will do any and every thing to keep that knowledge to itself. Full of alchemy, twists, turns, and detailed locations, by the time you finish the fifth book, you’ll want five more. Thankfully you won’t have to request them from the great library.
Following along the same library theme is The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. This series is eight books long, the eighth just being released a few days ago and I literally screamed when I saw it in my library. This story has everything! Travel to other worlds, cyborg alligators, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, a library with secrets of its own, and a main character who proves she has what it takes to collect rare and protect rare books from other worlds. Librarians have magic, if they speak it, it becomes real, but there are limits and powerful forces who are seemingly after our young librarian. When she is sent to a world to hunt for a book that someone else wants, someone powerful enough that no one in the library has managed to stop, well let’s just say she is lucky to have friends. The books are somewhat shorter than my typical read, but they are full of twists and turns that make them fun and enjoyable.
I don’t remember what lead me to the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, but I am so glad I found it. There is a woman who makes a living conning people in the marketplace selling cures and treating illnesses. But when she cons a family who thinks their daughter is possessed, she somehow summons a djinn warrior she finds herself on a journey to the magical (literally) Daevabad, the city of brass. The books take us on an incredible adventure full of detail and wonder. The characters are richly brought to life and you can’t help but wonder what will happen next. The story never feels rushed, but there is still something wild happening every chapter. It was an amazing read that ends just as explosively as it started, I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say you would never expect it. Or at least I did not!
Up to now I’ve been going in chronological order of my reading and I’m torn because this is already so long, but I have at least three more series I want to share! First is the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card. The sixth and last book in the series just came out a few weeks ago and I’ve just finished reading it (book 39!). I love the story, but Card has a bad habit of going on tangents, which is okay they are often short enough to power through (I do it all the time, the difference is I don’t have editors). The fifth book made me angry though because it was pure filler in my opinion. Nothing of value would be lost skipping it and the fourth book ended on such a high note I was frustrated. Luckily the sixth book picks up where the fourth left off (confusing I know) and it’s mostly a good end to the story. I would definitely read it again, but it’s not at the top of my list among all these other amazing series.
What makes a monster? Maybe it’s the old nature vs. nurture question, but in the Market of Monsters trilogy by Rebecca Schaeffer, it’s done with a twist. The story follows Nita, a young (early teens) girl who dissects bodies of supernatural beings to sell on the black market. She doesn’t kill them, her mother does that, so she’s not a bad person…right? In a world full of “unnaturals” and people who will pay large sums of money to literally eat them for the chance to absorb powers, or just get high, right and wrong isn’t as black and white as you might expect. Of course Nita’s life isn’t so bad, until her mom brings home a boy to dissect, a boy who’s still alive. We soon discover that Nita isn’t all that “normal” either and her and her mother have powers of their own. While the synopses of the book gives more away, I will not. The trilogy is well written, very original, and doesn’t shy away from gore or moral quandaries. It’s so well received it even has a webtoons comic currently being drawn, they are about half way through the second book and it’s a great read as well, even if you read the books. I as with all the books on this list, I highly recommend the book and in this case the comic as well!
The Hazel Wood series, by Melissa Albert, is technically two books, but there is a third companion book that adds to the story. I must admit read most of the first book in post-surgery drug induced stupor and what a book. It’s not that I don’t remember what I read, I do, but I can’t be certain if the story was so vivid because I was coming down from a lot of narcotics or if the story is just that well written. Actually, I can say with certain it was the later, because I read the second well after the drugs wore off and it was just as intense if not more so.
Alice and her mom have bad luck and it seems to follow them, so they moved around a lot. To add to the trouble, Alice’s grandmother is a famed author of a mysterious book full of dark fairy tales that has a cult following, but somehow the book cannot be found. When her grandmother dies and her mother is stolen away by someone who claims to be from the Hinterland, the world where the fairy tales take place, Alice is left with more questions than answers. With just a warning note left from her mom telling her to stay away from the Hazel wood, her grandmother’s estate, it seems she has no choice but to disobey if she’s ever going to find her mother again. What’s real, what’s fairy tale, is there even a difference? If that sounds like a wild synopsis, the books are 438.72% more intense. My only complaint was there are no more! While this is the last series on my list, it’s my most recommended by far.
I’ve read daily for the past 407 days (thanks to kindle for keeping track for me). It would be at 508, but I missed a single day last year after my surgery and unexpected overnight stay in the hospital so the consecutive days read reset. While the world around us burns and I find fewer and fewer people care about each other — because who has the energy to care about others after two years of this — I’ve found it best to stop and read. It doesn’t matter what you read, comics are reading, audiobooks are reading, hell around these parts, I will even let you count watching a movie as reading. I walk a tightrope to keep my mental health at least somewhat stable and I’ve found taking a few hours out of the day (or maybe just an hour, or whatever I can spare) to read really helps me.
I guess what I’m saying is that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find some comfort reading too and if you’re new to the idea, well I just happen to have some great recommendations for you. I don’t know what I’ll be reading in 2022, but I do know I’m excited to find out.