Did I already include 20+ books in my fav books of the year lists? yes. Am I talking about 8 more books in this post? also yes. I think these books deserve more hype and I also just really loved them, so I wanted to feature them in a post and talk about them a bit!
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
First of all, this book gets 5/5 stars just based on the fact that its main character has the same name as me. Second of all, this is a REALLY GREAT BOOK. A fun fantasy adventure with a really well-executed historical setting and a lovely little f/f romance thrown into the mix. It was such a delight to read, and you can tell from how immersive this world is that Clark has really done his research.
Romance! Magic! Edwardian England! There was no way I wasn’t going to love this. I loved seeing Robin and Edwin’s relationship develop, and I was really impressed by how Marske brought this story together, deftly balancing plot and character.
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park (tr. Anton Hur)
A novel about relationships, and also a novel structured around relationships. The main character’s narrative voice really shines through, here, and I loved getting to see how his sense of self evolved as he navigated various relationships–with his best friend, his mother, his romantic and sexual partners–throughout his adulthood.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Lyndsay Faye is a new favourite author of mine–she wrote my favourite novel of 2021, The King of Infinite Space–and Jane Steele was one of her other novels that I loved reading this year. Moving, romantic, and with a very compelling plot, Faye continues to write some really excellent character-focused stories.
Fault Lines by Emily Itami
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like books about marriage and motherhood and affairs. And Fault Lines contains all of those things–but somehow, it won me over. The main character’s narration feels really organic and is often funny in a self-deprecating way, and I also just loved seeing her navigate her relationship to her family and marriage.
The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck
A book about storytelling and found family, with some magic and faeries thrown into the mix. This reads like a kind of fairy tale or allegory, and I think Tidbeck’s writing style really gave it a kind of timeless feel. A short book, but a very moving one.
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
This is a historical fiction book set in 18th-century England, so I was pretty much bound to love it. Some great multiple POVs in this one, and also female characters BOXING (!!!!!).
Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
Alexandria Bellefleur writes some of my favourite contemporary romances, and she writes them so well. This one doesn’t come out till February 2022, but I still wanted to mention it because I just really, really enjoyed it. Cute, low angst, and just a really wholesome relationship. I will honestly read literally anything that Alexandria Bellefleur writes.
THE TIME HAS COME!!!!!! TIS TIME FOR MY FAVOURITE (fiction) BOOKS OF 2021 LIST!!! and this year the list is REALLY LONG–18 books to be precise. a) because i loved all these books a lot and i refuse to edit down my list and b) because this year i got a lot better at picking up the kinds of books I thought I knew I’d enjoy.
without further ado: HERE IS THE LIST. The list is kind of in order, though I’d say that the first 7 are the crème de la crème best books ever literary perfection 10/10 would read again and again and again.
One chapter into this book and I already knew it was going to be a favourite. What I didn’t know was that it would be MY FAVOURITE BOOK OF THE YEAR. The King of Infinite Space put me through the ringer, and I fucking loved every single second of it. The character work is impeccable, and the writing is just gorgeous. The relationships in this book are so beautiful they make me want to scream (especially THE ROMANCE). I truly feel like I experienced every single emotion reading this book. Anyway, I LOVED IT IMMENSELY. If you like character-focused stories and yearning, read The King of Infinite Space.
Devotion by Hannah Kent
Oh my god this book. Just thinking about it makes me want to weep. I know “beautiful” is a really easy word to throw around when it comes to describing books, but Devotion is one of the few novels that truly deserves it. Hannah Kent’s writing is mesmerizing: her imagery is unreal, and the way she writes atmosphere and details and characters is just brilliant. Honestly I’m frustrated because I don’t know how to convey to you how good this book was. It’s the kind of novel that feels so raw: you feel every single emotion these characters feel, and you feel them SO keenly. Devotion is truly a novel that’s in a league of its own.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
I just ADORE this book; it’s officially joined my list of all time favourite books this year. First of all, Lisa McInerney is one of the best writers working today; she writes narrative voice like no other author I’ve read. The Glorious Heresies is funny and devastating by turns, and it was such a visceral novel for me, too: I honestly felt like I was in physical pain reading it because I felt SO strongly for the main character, Ryan, and what he was going through. Plot, character, writing: The Glorious Heresies is brilliant on every single level.
(The Glorious Heresies is part of a trilogy of books focusing on a group of characters–to that end, I want to give a special mention to The Rules of Revelation, the third book in the trilogy, which I also loved and found such a poignant ending to these characters’ stories.)
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Is anyone surprised!!!!! I don’t know guys maybe Sally Rooney is so popular because her books are actually really good… And god was Beautiful World, Where Are You GOOD. I remember so distinctly reading this book like my life depended on it at the end of the summer, so engrossed was I in it. Rooney does an incredible job with her characters, as per usual, and I loved the fact that in this novel we’re given this outsider perspective to the characters and asked to judge their actions and words for ourselves. So much Rooney discourse is invested in intellectualizing her novels–and like, of course, Rooney’s books are very intellectually engaging–but I feel like a lot of it forgets the fact that Sally Rooney writes such moving character relationships. She’s always been an author whose focus lies in these relationships, and I loved how she portrayed them here through a quartet of interconnected characters.
Euphoria by Lily King
It honestly feels like this book was designed for me. It has every single thing I love reading about: a secluded setting, a focus on a very limited group of characters, engaging ideas, romance, and gorgeous writing. I INHALED Euphoria over a day and a half and emerged from it feeling like I’d experienced the emotional equivalent of being run over by a car. The character dynamics here are some of the best I’ve ever read.
Tipping the Velvet Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters is officially one of my favourite authors ever. I read four of her books this year–Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet, The Night Watch, and Affinity–and honestly any of them could’ve made this list–they’re all that good. What can I say about Sarah Waters that hasn’t already been said? She is a master of historical fiction. There’s just no one else that does it like her. Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet have been my favs of her so far, though I think Tipping the Velvet edges out Fingersmith by just a bit. It’s a coming of age novel, and it’s about performance and gender and sexuality and identity and I felt like I lived 12 lifetimes just reading this book. If you haven’t read a Sarah Waters novel yet, you are missing out on some absolute historical fiction excellence.
One of the most precisely written and poignant books I’ve read this year. Abigail is the kind of book whose every word feels like it was carefully thought over; there is not a single word in this novel that feels out of place. It starts slow, and initially seems like a slice-of-life story, but then slowly but surely it builds up to such an incredible and affecting climax. And there are so many lovely elements about this book, too: it’s set in a boarding school, it’s about female friendships, it’s a coming of age story, it’s about father-daughter relationships–all elements that are impeccably and beautifully rendered by Szabó.
What a gorgeous novel. Elmet is a slow novel, but where it dwells on things, it dwells on them with such beauty and insight. It’s a novel about nature and family and gender and violence, and where all of these things might’ve been very clumsily handled, Mozley presents them to us with such a deft, subtle hand. It’s the kind of book you have to sit with for a bit to let it settle, but it’s also the kind that really lingers with you over time.
Hello incredible fantasy!!!! Tasha Suri has quickly become one of my favourite fantasy authors, and The Jasmine Throne is a very clear example of why. This is an incredibly propulsive novel: I couldn’t stop reading it. But it’s also such a well-executed one. What I am always interested in is characters, and Suri gives us some really compelling characters here. The world is so cool–I love the magic that’s based in nature–and the romance is a lovely touch. I thought I felt lukewarm about this book and then by its end I was crying my little heart out.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Another Tasha Suri!!! Sorry but I couldn’t choose just one, and I just loved this book so much. Empire of Sand is, in one word, ANGST. This book gave me so much angst and I was living for it. There’s just something really moving about seeing characters who’ve gone through so much pain and trauma find and support each other.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Friends to lovers excellence!!! I read a lot of romance this year, and I enjoyed, even loved, a lot of it, but People We Meet on Vacation is one of the few ones that I think really earned it’s place on this list. I loved it so much I read it twice. Again, so much delicious angst here, and the way that Emily Henry structures this story is really clever and well done. I loved seeing Poppy and Alex’s relationship grow over time, and I can’t wait to see what Henry has in store for us next.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Every time I think about this novel I just go, wow, I really loved that book. If I Had Your Face is just a really, really good novel. My review of this book on Goodreads just says “[saoirse ronan voice] women–” and I stand by that review. At its heart this is a novel about women and their relationships with each other, and I ate it up. So many interesting themes, too, about beauty and class and work in South Korea. I will read literally anything that Frances Cha comes out with next.
One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun (tr. Jung Yewon)
This was such an unexpected favourite of mine this year. It’s both an incredibly grounded story and a story that feels larger than life; both realistic and allegorical. I finished it and gave it 4 stars, and then it just haunted me for days and next thing I knew I was bumping it up to a full 5 stars. There are are so many little details from this little novel (novella?) that I’ve thought about often since I finished it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. (it is criminally underhyped!!!!)
Alligator by Dima Alzayat
The best short story collection I’ve read this year. Alligator is a collection that’s just, like, objectively perfect in my opinion. I’m working on a full review of this, but for now I’ll just say that these stories are written with such precision and craft on Alzayat’s part. You might prefer some of her stories over others, but I feel like not a single story in this collection is anything less than stellar.
Another Lily King book!!! Lily King has become one of my favourite authors this year. This is a collection of tender, moving stories about characters just…living their lives, I guess. It’s not a very flashy collection in terms of its subject matter, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it is boring in any way, because it’s really, really not. King’s stories are so humane, always interested in the small moments that build character dynamics over time–whether those dynamics are between romantic partners, family members, friends. And I think the key characteristic of her writing for me is how sympathetic she is towards her characters, how human they always feel. I will pretty much read anything that Lily King writes at this point.
Unsettling, creepy, twisted short stories. Reading a Bora Chung story is basically just a process of internally screaming what the fuck as you continue to keep reading because her stories are impossible to put down. These stories do not pull any punches, in the absolute best way possible.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
So much of the fantasy that I’ve tried to read hasn’t worked for me because I always feel like it lacks flavour. (Granted I’ve read very little fantasy so take this with a grain of salt but) I find the worlds and characters really self-serious a lot of the time. And that’s not always a bad thing, but it would be nice to get some levity on occasion. Enter Gideon the Ninth. This book has so much PERSONALITY. It’s funny and chaotic and it doesn’t take itself too seriously–except when it does. Tamsyn Muir is so good at balancing serious, high-stakes stuff with the chaotic humour of her characters. I can’t wait to see where this series goes (though I desperately need to reread the first two books because I missed out on a lot of the details the first time around) (who am I kidding I’ll probably miss out on the details the second time around too, but a girl can dream).
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Finally, a novel that, like If I Had Your Face, I just really loved. It’s one of those novels where not much really happens, but also a lot happens. It’s slow and very psychological and circumscribed in its setting–most of the action takes place in a pregnancy ward–but the way that Donoghue writes the small (and big) dramas of this setting was very affecting and memorable.
“Sometimes a new underpass or a flyover or a shiny mall distracts me and that is good, but then I see a piece of wall I often passed when I was little and I am again pulled thinly, painfully, through that narrow corridor between the past and the future, between that which we can never change and that which gives us a chance to escape.”
People Want to Live is a collection that’s defined, I think, by its psychological acuity. Farah Ali writes about all manner of characters–bereaved, estranged, alienated, unsettled–in a sparse, measured way, her style deftly communicating a sense that every word in these stories has been carefully considered and chosen, is purposeful in what it is meant to convey and how it is meant to convey it.
It’s always hard to find a common thread that runs through all the stories of a collection, but I think what ties together Ali’s is her interest in the dissonance between and within characters: in “Heroes,” a bereaved mother tries to reconcile the media’s depictions of her dead son with the reality of what her son was like; in “Believers,” a young man grapples with the push and pull between faith and self-sufficiency; in “An Act of Charity,” a dissatisfied couple intervenes in the life of their friends’ maid. In all of these stories there is a sense of disquietude, and though a few do skew more dramatic in terms of their plot, Ali depicts them all in her keen-eyed, carefully controlled way. They are not “quiet” stories so much as they are precise, honed because they have been sharpened to their most essential parts, lean because any excess has been trimmed out.
As for which stories were my favourites, I think the absolute standout of this collection is “Present Tense,” a remarkably unsettling story about the often traumatic ways in which family impresses itself upon the past, and so also the present and the future. Here’s a quote that stuck with me,
It’s just the kind of short story that I love, the kind that tells you a lot without actually telling you a lot, the kind that is able to use its narrative surface to gesture at an immense depth. Another favourite was “Foreigners,” a story where a couple is interviewed (read: interrogated) by a man at the American Consulate in Pakistan. And oof, this one is just cutthroat in its depiction of how otherness becomes instated in a context like that, and the almost tangible sense of power that those doing the othering wield in those situations. (Other favourites also include “Believers” and “An Act of Charity,” which I’ve already mentioned.)
Though I loved a lot of this collection’s stories, though, there were a few that didn’t quite work for me: namely, “Tourism,” “The Effect of Heat on Poor People,” “Together,” and “What’s Fair?” (especially sad I didn’t like that last one because it was the one that ended the collection, and I wanted the collection to end with a bang). These are the stories I just didn’t “get”–not in the sense that they were challenging or confusing to understand, but rather that I just had no idea what they were narratively trying to do.
Overall, though, this was a really enjoyable and deftly written short story collection, with a lot of standouts, and with a psychological focus that I especially appreciated. If you love literary fiction and you love short stories, then you really can’t go wrong with this collection.
Thank you so much to McSweeney’s for sending me a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!