I get a kick out of doing these end-of-year lists, so of course I found an excuse to do another one after posting my favorites list a few days ago.
The following are the most memorable books I read last year that didn’t make my favorites list. These are stories that lingered with me long after I completed them either because of their great storytelling, strong characters, impressive worldbuilding, beautiful prose, or a combination of those qualities. These are stories I couldn’t help thinking about at odd times or considered returning to in the new year.
They are listed in the order I read them.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw ★★★★☆
This one was a surprise because I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. (Actually, the same is true for many of the books on this list.) Philyaw’s Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a book of nine short stories exploring the lives of Black women. I enjoyed several of the stories for how they are written, the snarky tone used in a few, and the variety of topics covered, such as grief, sexuality, and mother-daughter relationships. If I should reread it, I intend to do so by audiobook. I initially began the book on audio but loved the prose so much that I had to read the physical book. The narrator’s (Janina Edwards) voice is so soothing and mellow that I’d like to listen to it again, so I have to find something else she narrates, whether it’s this or another book, to listen to.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour ★★★★☆
I think I’ve mentioned this one often since reading it. It’s a contemporary satirical debut novel about a young Black man working at a startup in NYC where he’s the only Black person on staff. It was both a very frustrating and extremely good read. I was hooked throughout, despite how pissed I sometimes got, and couldn’t stop talking about it when I was done. I HIGHLY recommend it, and now I can’t wait to read what Askaripour writes next.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko ★★★★☆
This is the first of two YA novels on this list which is surprising because I’d given up on YA fantasy (90% of the books are too mired in romance for me). But Raybearer was a good read. Inspired by African cultures and folklores, Raybearer is YA fantasy about a girl who’s raised in an invisible fortress and who people avoid touching because she can “steal the stories” of whatever or whomever she touches. I was hooked from the beginning with this one, but it’s the world that kept me reading. It’s an interesting place, and I kept wanting to know more. I look forward to reading the second book since that one explores the Underworld to which a selection of children are sacrificed and they must navigate it using the map they are born with tattooed to their entire body. So interesting!
Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel (illus.) ★★★★★
This is one of the most beautiful books I own and read last year. It’s a 200-page middle grade book that relays the great epic Hindu tale of Rama, an avatar of the blue god Vishnu. Vishnu reincarnated himself as Rama to defeat the powerful demon Ravana, who no god or demon can defeat, and was able to do so with his brother Lakshman and his friends, like the flying monkey Hanuman. Patel tells the story in a way that modern audiences would find entertaining and pairs it with beautiful illustrations that help bring the tale to life and leave it lingering in readers’ minds. I’m so glad I own a copy.
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn ★★★★☆
I love the Bridgerton series, so I had to try the books the show is based on. I’m slowly making my way through the book series, which is delightful! The Duke and I is the first book. It’s historical romance that’s obviously inspired by Jane Austen’s novels (I’ve only read P&P, so that’s what I’m thinking about). The books focus on the large Bridgerton family whose matriarch wants to see her children happily married off in good marriages. I found the book more humorous than the show, but I love both equally. This is a series I’ll continue with this year as well.
Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins, Vol. 1 by Matthew Colville & Matthew Mercer, illus. by Olivia Samson ★★★★☆
I briefly played D&D in 2020-21, so I was very proud of myself to recognize D&D influences in this and other fantasy works (because they were invisible to me before). This is a fantasy comic book based on a popular Dungeons & Dragons web series about the forming of a band that explores weird happenings around a town called Stillben. The townspeople believe the water is cursed. It’s an entertaining read, and I liked the illustrations, but I think the real reason it stuck with me is because I was so excited and felt SO proud of myself to recognize the D&D influences. I knew nothing about D&D before 2020. Nothing.
There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool ★★★★★
Here’s the other YA novel on this list! So surprising there are two. I’m shocked, but this was a great read as well. It’s the first in a trilogy, I believe. It’s YA fantasy set in what seems to be ancient Mediterranean and is about various teens trying to stop a bad dude, who’s referred to as the Hierophant, from gaining influence and bringing about a prophecy that foretells an age of darkness. I feel like the first book just introduces us to people and sets up things, but I was so intrigued and blown away by how it ends. I look forward to continuing with the trilogy and completing it this year.