Welcome to Day 20 of Blogmas 2021! It’s finally time to share the post I have been adding to all year – my best of shelf picks for 2021! My regular readers will know that I rarely rate a book above 4 stars and even fewer of those make this list. Of the 150+ books I’ve read so far this year, I’ve chosen 11 for this list – a slightly higher ratio than usual, but these books were simply too good to leave any out.
As a reminder of the criteria I use for this list, the book has to be published in the same year, I should have given it a rating of 4 stars or higher, with something that I felt made it stand out over the other books. The titles are just in publication order this year because if I started trying to rank them, this post would still be in my drafts. Without further ado, let’s check out my favorite books of 2021!
1. Lore – Alexandra Bracken
Many early reviews described this as Greek mythology crossed with Hunger Games and I found it to be a very apt description. One might expect, perhaps, something along the lines of Percy Jackson, but if you’ve read many of the original myths, this depiction of the Olympians is actually much closer. Alexandra Bracken has woven a truly fascinating world with such depth and a complex, layered plot that I have to applaud, especially since this is a standalone taking place over the span of a mere seven days. It has been a while since I’ve read any of the author’s books, but the writing style was familiar and draws the reader in right from the first page. The plot and world-building were both masterfully executed and though a nearly 500 page book is hardly typical binge reading material, that’s exactly what I did.
2. We Free the Stars (Sands of Arawiya #2) – Hafsah Faizal
The narration and world-building were undoubtedly the best parts of this book and Arawiya was truly brought to life in the final stretch of this adventure. Where I struggled a little to get through the first book, I had no issues with this one – I think it’s just a matter of being in the right mood for a more complex fantasy like this one. The rapid pace definitely helped too, accentuating the tense mood of the plot, and despite the fact that there was so much going on at every point in the story, it just fit together perfectly like a puzzle, especially towards the end when it just clicked and it was so clear all of a sudden where the story was going.
3. A Court of Silver Flames (ACOTAR #4) – Sarah J. Maas
When I first heard about this book some time last year, I honestly considered not reading it. I didn’t enjoy A Court of Frost and Starlight, and most of the time, I dislike it when a complete story is further dragged out with spin offs or novellas. Nesta has never been my favourite character in this series either, so there wasn’t much motivation to pick up this book initially. However, I really should have known better than to doubt a book by Sarah J. Maas. It took me a while to start fully enjoying the story, but the familiar world, characters and above all, the writing, had me flying through the pages in just over 5 hours. A Court of Silver Flames is narrated through Cassian and Nesta’s POVs, so it was interesting to get a fresh perspective of the characters we know and love. While this book wasn’t as overwhelmingly good as say, ACOMAF, it was beautifully written and gave me a new appreciation for Nesta’s character.
4. Chain of Iron (The Last Hours #2) – Cassandra Clare
Chain of Iron continues to be much more sedately paced compared to the series set in the present day timeline, which leaves more time for character development and plot advancement. There was very little action, just really amazing build up with some truly explosive reveals at the end. With four major plot lines, there was plenty going on to keep this an engaging read. But even better than the plot were the characters – they’re all so realistically portrayed and well fleshed out that it’s easy to get completely invested in their stories and I absolutely love this cast. This book reestablished Cordelia as one of my favorite heroines of all time and one of the best parts of this book is that she has an independent story as well, and is not just relegated to the hurt love interest. This was an intriguing second installment to this series, and I can’t wait for Chain of Thorns.
5. Good Girl, Bad Blood (AGGGTM #2) – Holly Jackson
I was surprised to hear that there was a sequel to AGGGTM, and more than a little skeptical. The first book was amazing and a tough act to follow, especially since things were tied up quite neatly previously. But this second mystery that Pip finds herself drawn into is perhaps even more exciting and engrossing than the first. The narration style is similar, alternating between Pip’s investigation and her written observation, but this time also including the various interviews and pieces she records for her podcast to aid in the search for Jamie. The presentation of the facts in these sections felt much more organized this time, which I thought was really cool as Pip now has some real experience with this kind of work and it shows. Holly Jackson is a marvelous storyteller and it was so easy to get caught up in this thrilling read through many unexpected twists and shocking reveals.
6. The Rose Code – Kate Quinn
Kate Quinn has been one of my favourite historical fiction authors ever since I read The Empress of Rome series (which was also my introduction to the world of Ancient Rome) years ago, so when I got approved for the ARC I had to literally pinch myself to make sure it was real. Her novels never disappoint, and The Rose Code was no exception – a masterfully crafted narrative. Before this book, I knew a little about the code-breaking efforts in Bletchley Park during WWII, which certainly helped, but even without that I have no doubt I would have enjoyed it just as much. This book is narrated in dual timelines, which is one of my favorite ways to read historical novels, and the way it fits in with real-life people and events of the time was seamless.
7. Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1) – Xiran Jay Zhao
I had been looking forward to reading Iron Widow ever since I heard of it on Penguin Teen’s top 10 list, and it did not disappoint. Absolutely gorgeous cover aside, this was such an epic read and unlike anything I’ve ever come across before. Iron Widow is inspired by Chinese history, particularly the life of Empress Wu, the first and only female Emperor of China. This is one area I knew literally nothing about, but reading this book has made me so curious to know more, and as I understand it, there are several characters throughout the story inspired by real historical figures, so I imagine actually knowing the background would make it so much more intriguing a read.
8. The Bronzed Beasts (The Gilded Wolves #3) – Roshani Chokshi
I don’t think I even need to mention how high up on my most anticipated list this book had been all year considering the number of times it has appeared in my posts. The adventure that started as a heist in Paris comes to a close against the backdrop of Venice as the stakes are higher than ever. The Bronzed Beasts was not the same high powered adventure as the first two books, though it did have its share of action packed moments. I debated long and hard on what to rate this book, because I’m still conflicted about how…gradual the ending was. It wasn’t until I finished the book and gave it some thought, setting aside the fantasy reader in me that expects a heart-stopping finale, that I realized how naturally the book had ended and really, all things considered, it was a very satisfying conclusion to this series.
9. The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) – Naomi Novik
With how fantastic the opening book of this trilogy was, this second installment was prime material for a sophomore slump, and my biggest reservation going into this book, despite how highly anticipated it was, was that it wouldn’t be able to match up. There was no need to worry however, as The Last Graduate took everything I loved about the first book and built on it, resulting in a riveting sequel. This was a magnificent read that managed to completely surpass the sky high expectations I had for it. It was wonderful to return to the world of the Scholomance and all these familiar characters. This book was an easy addition to my best of year shelf and I can’t recommend it enough!
10. As Good As Dead (AGGGTM #3) – Holly Jackson
It’s not often that two books of a series are released within the same year and even rarer for me that both would end up on this shelf. Having absolutely loved the first two books, I expected a thrilling story, another intricate mystery to be solved, and just an all round awesome read – it was all that and more, with plenty of twists and surprising reveals too. This book took some truly unexpected turns, and while I’m still conflicted about the change of direction in the narrative, I can definitely appreciate the masterful storytelling behind it. This was definitely the darkest, most complex book of the series and everything comes full circle as Pip’s investigation leads her back to the disappearance and murder of Andie Bell.
11. Aurora’s End (The Aurora Cycle #3) – Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman
The first science fiction novel to ever make my best of shelf, Aurora’s End was a captivating, action-packed finale to The Aurora Cycle series. I had many theories about what the direction the plot might take in this finale, but suffice to say, time travel was certainly not on that list. It’s a tricky trope to pull off, but Aurora’s End managed to do so beautifully and in a way that makes so much sense given the story so far. The way the plot progresses shows just how well planned it has been right from the beginning. I was very impressed with how perfectly paced this book was and how well the events flowed and it was a fantastic conclusion to this series!
How has your reading year been? Did any of these books make it onto your favorites this year? Let me know in the comments below!