Bestest and Rubbishest Reads of 2021



Somehow I've managed to avoid writing this yearly post for the past three years. To be fair, the universe got completely thrown out of routine since the pandemic hit. This year's is late, for reasons (I'll update when I have time), but imma still do it.


According to Goodreads, my book count was down in 2021 to 38 after having been in the 40s for the past several years. But. My page count is a steady +/-14,500 every year, which seems like a more accurate metric (although I wish it tracked word count instead).


I got a bit more experience under my belt since my last Bestest/Rubbishest post, including three published short stories, a whole mess of sleep stories coming out through Amazon Alexa, seventeen issues of curated flash fiction for Barren Magazine, and a mountain of manuscripts I've edited as a freelancer on Upwork.com. I've read widely, ranging from literary fiction to historical fiction and massive fantasy tomes to middle-grade novellas. I've gained a broader perspective of what makes good fiction—but also lost patience with bad fiction. Life is too short to waste on books I don't enjoy, and ultimately, my pride is not worth saving.


Without further ado, I give you the bestest and rubbishest of 2021:


Bangarang

The Kite Runner / Khaled Hosseini / historical

Enlightening and heart-wrenching. Hosseini is an expert with context and tension. Read with tissues.


The Knife of Never Letting Go / Patrick Ness / sci-fi, dystopian

My new favorite author. I first noticed Patrick Ness because of the movie A Monster Calls, a literary masterpiece. Then I saw Chaos Walking and thought, This man must have a serious breadth of capability. The tension in this book is like that of The Hunger Games, but it has the addition of some delightful literary qualities. This whole series is just *chef's kiss*.


Looking for Alaska / John Green / young adult contemporary

I have been avoiding the hype for this author for so long, but good gravy he can write characters. And then, he rips your heart out your chest. But you don't need me to tell you that.


Fahrenheit 451 / Ray Bradbury / dystopian classic

Similar to 1984 but with Bradbury's trademark sparkle. Bradbury is one of my all-time favorites.


Coraline / Neil Gaiman / middle grade paranormal

Welp. It took me long enough, but I'm officially a Neil Gaiman fan. But I don't get why people are so freaked out by this book. I really don't. Here's what you need to know: it's a little creepy and a lot charming.


The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue / V.E. Schwab / historical, romantic, fantasy

Oh my stars. The premise of this is incredible. Chick lives for hundreds of years being forgotten by everyone she meets the moment they leave the room (so harsh!), complete with a hot bad guy you love to crush on and vintage vibes.


Boo

The Pillars of the Earth / Ken Follett / historical

It's an interesting read if you like all the boring details of architecture. But if you're not into that, at least you can look forward to the shameful depiction of any woman who walks on the page as a helpless victim of violent rape by perps who are never stopped or punished. So.


Outlander / Diana Gabaldon / historical romance and (I don't care what anyone says this is NOT) fantasy

First of all, spoiler alert, this is not fantasy. There is one fantastic element that is used exactly once by a lazy and unimaginative writer. Second, similar to the piece of trash mentioned above by Follett, rape is prevalent here and sex is not depicted in a healthy way. (This ad paid for and rubber-stamped by a happily-married wifey.)



Extra, Extra! The Best and Bummers of 2020


The Best

The Book Thief / Markus Zusak / historical with an element of fantasy

The moment I finished this book, I bought myself a copy. It introduces Death as a character (!!!) and follows the life of two children puzzling freedom and power in Nazi Gemany. Prepare for all the feels.


We Are Not Free / Traci Chee / young adult historical

This story follows several Japanese teens as they live through World War II during their angsty teenage years and their forced internment at labor camps. The characters are magnificent, the story heartwrenching. See my full review.


A Song of Wraiths and Ruin / Roseanne A. Brown / young adult fantasy

This reminds me of Children of Blood and Bone, but I personally think it's better. An original fantasy revolving around African folklore and incorporating tense elements of teenage romance. Loved. See my full review.


The Hate U Give / Angie Thomas / young adult contemporary

Black American teens respond to racial injustice and contemplate their role in civil rights activism while navigating interracial relationships. This is a poignant, compassionate, and thoughtful read, and I highly recommend it.


How to Get Your Dog to Do What You Want / Warren Eckstein / self-help

This is not fiction! But I inherited two dogs when my mother-in-law passed away in early 2020 and I needed help with these two undisciplined pups. We solved quite a few problems using the techniques in this book (incessant barking while caged, indoor potty training), and I highly recommend the author's effective but particularly humane and loving approach.


The Bummers

Ninth House / Leigh Bardugo / young adult paranormal

This one's necromancy vibe was a little too creepy for my taste, but worse than that, the narrative style was lacking and just didn't make me curious enough to want answers to the needless mystery they set up in the beginning. I simply lost patience with this.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes / Suzanne Collins / young adult dystopia

I don't care what anyone says: this is not a Hunger Games novel. It's by the same author, in the same universe, but if you're looking for the same level of tension, conflict, and plot, you won't find it in this manipulative romance(?). Yuck.


The Children's Book / A.S. Byatt / historical

The Hired Girl / Laura Amy Shlitz / young adult historical

I'm lumping the above two books together because I could not finish them. Just trust me when I say the narrative style (and editing!) was novice-level.



Just When You Thought It Was Over: 2019


Winners

The Portable Promised Land / short stories by Touré / literary, humorous

Touré has a magical, cheeky voice, and I will read any story he writes ever.


Songbirds and Stray Dogs / Megan Lucas / Appalachian, literary, contemporary

I know this author! I worked with her at Barren Magazine while she was fiction editor. She always impressed me as a no-nonsense, butt-kicking kind of gal, and this novel is a testament to that same work ethic. I hope she's very proud of the literary quality of this, because I am! See my full review.


The Invention of Hugo Cabret / middle-grade historical fantasy

A fantasy in a different form, this book is part chapter book, part illustration. Half the book perhaps is made up of full-page black-and-white illustrations by the author. It's a magical, immersive experience.


Quicker Than the Eye / short stories by Ray Bradbury / literary, fantasy

These are the stories that made me love Ray Bradbury. His style is magical, whimsical, poignant, and literary. Absolute genius.


Gossamer / Lois Lowry / middle-grade fantasy

Lois Lowry's prose sparkles. A magical tale about relationships, dreams, and fairies.


Losers

Black Duck / Janet Taylor Lisle / young adult historical

I wrote a thing: "Things I Learned Not to Do from Black Duck."


The Golden Compass / Philip Pullman / middle-grade fantasy

I wrote another thing: "Why I Love/Hate The Golden Compass." Don't let your kids read this.


Wormwood / G.P. Taylor / young adult historical fantasy

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars / Katherine Marsh / young adult historical fantasy

Another pair of novice novels.



Donezo! Now to get back to the only book I've started in 2022: a circa-1400 era compilation of the tales of King Arthur. I am . . . probably . . . not on track for my usual page count this year. But I love a good tome.



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