The Best Books I Read in 2021
I read each of these books for the first time this year, and gave all of them 5 stars. This is, in fact, all of the 5-star new-to-me books I read in 2021. I read a number of very good books that got 4 or 4.5 stars, and I thought I would have room to mention some of them, but I had a surprising number of 5-star books this year. I’m not sure if I’m getting less picky about what constitutes a 5-star read, or whether I was simply lucky to read so many excellent books this year. (I have a feeling it may be both.)
The books are listed in reverse reading order, with the most recent first.
The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this historical novel with a dash of romance takes place in late 18th-century Scotland… and is one of the best unreliable narrator books I have read.
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow. A feminist cry of rage against the Sleeping Beauty trope, from the point of view of a terminally ill young woman swept into a fairy-tale world. It’s brilliant and beautiful, angry and angsty, heartbreaking and optimistic, in all the best ways. And the illustrations are marvelous.
Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis. Light and delightful, this is the dragon-infused Regency fantasy romance I’ve been looking for.
The Duchess War by Courtney Milan. Well-written in every way, from the prose to the historical-romance plot to the depth of the very believable characters.
Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas. Although it’s technically in the Ravenels series, Devil in Disguise is really a Wallflowers’ offspring book, wherein Marcus and Lillian’s daughter falls for a Scots whiskey-maker with a surprising resemblance to… well, if you know the series, you can guess it from the title. This was a sentimental favorite for me, since I love both series.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Page-turning science fiction novel about a man who wakes up alone on a space ship, with no memory of who he is or why he is there, only to learn he is humanity’s only hope of survival. Written with equal parts humor and tension, the novel also has one of the best aliens I’ve come across in any SF novel. And the science and math, for the most part, are accurate and well-written.
From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with My Nine-Year-Old Self by Katherine Langrish. A series of essays on the Chronicles of Narnia, written with uncommon insight and depth.
An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn. Veronica and Stoker investigate the climbing death of a European princess with ties to the British royal family, whilst navigating the changing terrain of their own relationship. Not the best place to jump into the series, but excellent if you’re already a fan.
The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill. Graphic novel about, well, tea dragons… but also about friendship, love, caretaking, and acceptance, with a remarkably diverse cast. Beautifully written and illustrated.
An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch. Victorian gentleman detective Charles Lenox reluctantly agrees to travel to the United States on Her Majesty’s behalf, then is drawn equally reluctantly into investigating the death of a young woman in Gilded Age Newport. He is aided in his investigation by a young and enthusiastic amateur with ties to New York society. The novel is a brilliantly-executed mystery that returns the series to its main timeline (after three prequel novels.)
The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett. The first in a new mystery series featuring Queen Elizabeth II and her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi. It may seem presumptuous (or even preposterous) to cast the Queen as a modern-day Miss Marple, but Bennett pulls it off magnificently. The behind-the-scenes glimpses of Windsor Castle and the Royal Family ring true, and the mystery is not easy to solve. This is the only audiobook on my top-ten list, and the narrator does an very good job conveying the personality as well as the accent and speech patterns of each character.