It’s January, the beginning of a new year, and one of my favorite times of a year because of the “best of” lists everyone posts. I’ve very behind on visiting blogs and things, but I fully intend to catch up this weekend because I’d love to see what’s on everyone’s Best Books of 2021 or Favorite Books of 2021 lists. I get many book recommendations from such lists and have already added a few to my Goodreads TBR.
Below is my list of favorite books read in 2021, which I’ve managed to quickly cobble together. These were all outstanding, highly entertaining books that left me wanting more when I was done. They aren’t listed in any particular order.
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey ★★★★★
Carey’s series is shaping up to be one of my favorites. Kushiel’s Chosen is the second novel in the Phèdre trilogy, a fantasy story that focuses on a courtesan who’s also a spy. The story begins in a land where the people are said to be descendants of angels. I enjoyed the first book, Kushiel’s Dart, but I loved this one more. Kushiel’s Chosen was more exciting to me than the first book, and I loved that the actions of the gods were a bit more apparent in this one. It was more obvious that they were effecting events to help Phèdre. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce ★★★★★
Of course, this one had to make my favorites list. It’s a historical fiction thriller about a female serial killer and is based on the life of a real person. It was slow-paced but such a riveting read that often left me shocked at the protagonist’s actions. Some parts were gruesome and uncomfortable to read, but even so, I couldn’t put the book down. Now I want to read more by Bruce. I’ll certainly do so this year.
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner ★★★★★
Waggoner strikes again! Waggoner has published two books and I’ve enjoyed both. The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is set in the same world as her first book, Unnatural Magic, but focuses on different characters (although, characters from the first book are mentioned and do pop up at the end). The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is gaslamp fantasy about a poor fire witch who lucks into an opportunity to make some money by protecting a young woman from being assassinated before her wedding. But that’s just part of the story. There’s also a bit of mystery, some sleuthing, and the blossoming of a sapphic romance. The world is interesting, but the characters, especially the protagonist Delly, are what kept me reading. I hope we get more books set in this world with characters from both books.
Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham, illus. by Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, and Craig Hamilton ★★★★★
I’m still mad at myself that I waited so long to start on this. Fables is a fantasy comic book series about characters from various fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and folklores living in New York City after being exiled from their lands. This first volume is actually a whodunit as Bigby Wolf tries to puzzle out who killed Rose Red. It was such an entertaining read for me. I enjoyed my time reading it and know that I will revisit it and continue the series this year. I’m not a fan of the illustration style, but I enjoyed the story so much that I didn’t pay much attention to the art. That doesn’t often happen.
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold ★★★★★
Bujold’s World of Five Gods series is quickly becoming a favorite. I’ve now read two of the books and consider both favorites. Paladin of Souls is the second novel in this fantasy series set in a world of gods and demons. It focuses on Ista, who is now dowager royina of Chalion and who everyone believes is mad. Wanting to escape the suffocating care of those around her, Ista embarks on a pilgrimage and finds her way to sainthood. It’s another story with a slow build, but I enjoyed every minute of it and getting to know Ista as well. With Bujold’s books, it’s the writing and the characters that hold my interest and wow me. I’ll never forget Caz (from the first book) and now Ista is stuck with me too.
DCeased by Tom Taylor, illus. by Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano, Laura Braga, Richard Friend, James Harren, Darick Robertson, Trevor Scott, and Neil Edwards ★★★★★
A zombie book! It’s a zombie comic book! Of course it’s on this list! DCeased is a superhero comic book set in the DC universe. Basically, there’s a virus causing people to become undead, even superheroes. It’s a desperate situation that leads superheroes and villains to team up to control, and hopefully stop, the spread. I enjoyed it. I’ve wanted a zombie superhero story, and I finally got it with this. The situation is frightful, gruesome, and AWESOME for zombie lovers. 😀 It was a thrilling, entertaining story with great illustrations, so it quickly zoomed to my favorites list. (I’m not hard to please.)
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown ★★★★★
Cinnamon and Gunpowder was not a book to read on a hungry stomach — although the story takes place at sea with the protagonist often having to improvise to create meals for the pirate who kidnapped him. Cinnamon and Gunpowder is historical fiction about Owen Wedgwood, a renown chef, whose world is flipped topsy-turvsy when the pirate, Mad Hannah Mabbot, kills his employer, kidnaps him, and commands him to create for her exquisite meals every Sunday in exchange for his life. Wedgwood is disgruntled through the entire adventure and hardly ever gives up trying to escape the mad pirate. I enjoyed seeing how his experience aboard the pirate ship slowly changes him, but most of all, I loved reading about Wedgwood describing what he loves most — cooking and food. Oh man! It made me wish I was a cook and as great a writer as Brown.
Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson ★★★★★
This is the only children’s picture book to make my list — not that I read many of such books in 2021. Milo Imagines the World was a wonderful read about how wrong our assumptions of others can be and how biases and stereotypes affect what we assume of others. The story very subtly discusses this through a boy who’s riding the subway with his sister. While on the train, he draws what he imagines the lives of the people around him to be like. The illustrations were very childish to match what Milo would most likely produce. The story is sweet with a great lesson and the art complements it well.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (MinaLima ed.) by J.K. Rowling, illus. by MinaLima ★★★★★
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets(MinaLima ed.) by J.K. Rowling, illus. by MinaLima ★★★★★
Of course, the story in both are rereads, but this was my first time experiencing the MinaLima editions of these books, and I’m glad I gave them a try. This was what I was hoping the illustrated versions of the Harry Potter books to be like. I wanted them to be a somewhat immersive experience, and that’s what these books gave me. I love the illustrations — I think they match the tone of the stories well — and I love the interactive pieces — playing with them made me feel like a kid again. These were wonderful and a great, fun way to re-experience these stories.