At the end of each year I take a look back on the books that I’ve read and try to determine the best books I’ve read in each category and the best book I read during the year. This is a best of those I’ve read and reviewed in 2021, not necessarily the best books published in 2021.
While I read more than I was expecting or planning to read, I have been consciously reducing my reading load. I’m trying to catch up on a backlog of ARCs as well as making more time for other, personal projects. I hope to reduce my number of books read in 2022 as well.
I have added a new ‘best of’ category this year … best reprint or reissue. This includes new translations of classic works or new compilations of older works (such as a graphic novel collection of older comics). I noted that I read a few different reissues and new translations this past year and I can see that I have a few coming up in 2022 as well.
I started with this category last year and I may as well begin here again. While 2020 was a really good year for mysteries for me, 2021 was less so. Only one book earned a full five stars from me, and only two got a 4.5. That would make the winner pretty clear, I think, and this is a book and author that shouldn’t surprise anyone. This mystery is a prequel to the popular Cork O’Connor series.
BEST MYSTERY 2021 – Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger
I haven’t read a lot by way of Historical Fiction books, but just as I really started enjoying mysteries a few years back, I’ve slowly come to really enjoying historical fiction novels recently. Both The Sin Eater and The Real Valkyrie were very good books in this category, but I was really brought into the art collecting world and the contrast of the wealthy and the negro population of the 1920’s with this year’s winner.
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION 2021 – THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
If I had to pick a category that appeals to me the most, I would struggle to choose between Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Children’s Books. Both categories cover a wide-range of book types.
I consider a children’s book anything from picture books up to middle grade books. This past year I had two books, both middle grade novels, get five stars from me. The first was I Am Drums by Mike Grosso and the second was the ever-popular Jerry Spinelli and his latest, Dead Wednesday. Both are outstanding books and deserve all the accolades they might receive. This is probably the most difficult choice for me but I’m going with:
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK 2021 – I AM DRUMS by Mike Grosso
Young Adult Books
This was a relatively slow year for my reading of Young Adult books and those that I did read didn’t really stand out too much. My choice for best YA this year was also my option for a middle grade reader.
BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK 2021 – DEAD WEDNESDAY by Jerry Spinelli
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I added the category of “Western” a few years back when I was reading a lot of westerns, but looking back I only read and reviewed two books in this category in the past year and therefore I don’t think I will award a ‘best of.’
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When I look back over the years, I believe that I rate non-fiction books better than most others. I also find that I really enjoy non-fiction a lot. There were a number of good books in this category, and I think first of a book I read early in the year, Made in China by Amelia Pang. If I were choosing based on importance of the topic alone, this would be my choice. Everyone should read this book and try to take some positive action.
My choice for best non-fiction hits a little closer to home. I grew up reading collections of essays by Sigurd Olson, and his love of the north land (where my family has history) is dear to me. Add to that his thoughts on becoming a writer, and this was an easy choice for me.
BEST NON-FICTION – A PRIVATE WILDERNESS: THE JOURNALS OF SIGURD F. OLSON – by Sigurd F. Olson, edited by David Backes
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There were a number of really good graphic novels this year, though my favorites seemed to have sexual themes. For many years I only read superhero comics and graphic novels. That they can be so much more has been an exciting discovery for me.
My favorite for this year was a recently read book.
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL 2021 – FINE PRINT by Stjepan Šejić
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Reprints, Reissues, and New Translations
There aren’t a lot of books to add to this new category, but as I was reading I noted that I’d read a few, and I’ve got more on my Kindles for the next year as well.
BEST REPRINT, REISSUE, OR NEW TRANSLATION – A HERO BORN by Jin Yong
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It can be hard to separate fantasy from science fiction (and from horror and speculative fiction) and so this can be a bit subjective. I’m sure there are readers out there who will disagree and I respect their right to do so.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that my favorite fantasy is by Seanan McGuire.
BEST FANTASY 2021 – ANGEL OF THE OVERPASS by Seanan McGuire
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This was a surprisingly lean year for me with science fiction books. There wasn’t much by the big guns (Andy Weir, John Scalzi, Kim Stanley Robinson, etc) in 2021. I’m going a little off book and selecting a graphic novel as my best science fiction of 2021.
BEST SCIENCE FICTION 2021 – GEIGER – graphic novel by Geoff Johns, Gary frank, and Brad Anderson
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Speculative Fiction was a term used back in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t know if it was coined by Harlan Ellison, but he touted it a lot. I haven’t heard many people use it today, but it’s still how I think of certain styles of science fiction/fantasy. Jeff Noon may be the only author I’ve read in that category, but as his book rated five stars, and it doesn’t really fit either the science fiction or fantasy, I thought I should keep it in.
BEST SPECULATIVE FICTION 2021 – WITHIN WITHOUT by Jeff Noon
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Again, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between horror and fantasy or horror and science fiction. So many books cross genres these days.
I’ve read a fair amount of horror or dark fantasy in the past year. When written well, I enjoy it great deal. One of my new favorite authors is Grady Hendrix who writes in this category. However, my choice for best this year goes to another new favorite.
BEST HORROR/DARK FANTASY 2021 – NEAR THE BONE by Christina Henry
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These ‘best of’ books were REALLY good this year. You could make an argument for any one of these books to be THE best book of the year and you’d be right. So I look over the list and think about which of these excites me the most. Which book would I want to read again? Which book would I most recommend to someone who just wants to read a good book?
THE BEST OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2021
WITHIN WITHOUT by Jeff Noon