Best of 2021: Books

I kind of fell off the grid this year. I had two monthly recommendation posts and then life fell apart and I lost all interest in both consuming media of any sort or writing. A full October Daye re-read helped bring some of my love of reading back for a while but where I have had enough content for multiple book posts by genre in previous years, this year this is what I’ve got. Because I love books and I love recommending them to people in the hope that they might find something they need in one of them. It was a year of familiar reading to me. Three of these ten books were by a new-to-me author. Everything else was a return to authors I love. Because when everything else is a little too much, you need to put your hands in authors you trust and that’s exactly what I did. I hope you find something in this list that catches your attention and wish you happy reading in 2022!

Romance

Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan This was the first book I read this year and I couldn’t have picked a stronger start to a year of reading. The only word that comes to mind when I think about the book and how I felt reading it is “wow”. The writing is absolutely stunning in a way I don’t know fully how to talk about. It’s poetic and visceral and feels so effortless that you know a tremendous amount of skill has gone into creating it. I am not typically a fan of childhood friends turned lovers and am very picky with second chance romances but this one is both and Ryan sells it beautifully. You cannot help but love these two and this book uses flashbacks absolutely perfectly to help understand the depth of Kimba and Ezra as children and who they have become as adults. There is angst and you will feel a lot but it is handled with so much care and you always feel safe in Ryan’s hands. 

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert I love Talia Hibbert and this series in particular so it’s no surprise that the final Brown sisters book has ended up on this list. It’s grumpy/sunshine at its finest and very few authors are as good with characters as Hibbert. There is so much care and love that goes into them and it results in really fully-inhabited characters who come to life. I absolutely adored Eve and how big and bubbly she was in contrast to Jacob’s very orderly existence. The characters in a Hibbert story are always just allowed to be and that’s where the growth comes from. There is compassion and respect for who they are and where they are on their independent journeys and you see them learn how to best love each other and it is always immensely satisfying. I cannot recommend this trilogy enough and need it adapted for a Netflix series ASAP. 

Cinnamon Roll by Anna Zabo Anna Zabo is another one of the authors that wins up on my year end lists a lot. I deeply love the way they write BDSM dynamics and relationships in a way that feels both inviting to people who know less about it and instructional so that you do come away with a better understanding of how things can be. I absolutely devoured this book, Max and Tom as individual characters were great and I loved Tom working toward what he could have. There was healing and care and intention all over the pages of this book and that will always be my favorite thing to read about. You care about the characters because it feels like the author also cared a lot about them and it makes for an extremely satisfying read. It is part of a larger connected series with different authors writing the different stories that make up the universe but it absolutely works as a standalone as well. 

Tell Me Anything by Skye Kilaen For a hurt/comfort book that was painful to read at times (please use the content warnings to decide whether you’re up for reading this book), I felt immensely safe reading it. So much of Isabel’s journey was hard and full of internalized fears to work through and come to terms with as she took steps to be who she was without the shame she’s carried around for so long. But she was never alone. It was a story with a lot of loss but she also gained so much. It’s a celebration of found families and the people you surround yourself with but also a celebration of kindness in the way you interact with others and seeing each other’s strengths for what they are (and helping people see them in themselves when others have told them otherwise). It is a truly beautiful book that was full of gentleness from both the characters and the author and I am so excited to read more of Kilaen’s books in the new year. 

I Love You, I Hate You by Elizabeth Davis I was predisposed to like this book. It’s a modern, enemies-to-lovers, You’ve Got Mail story of two work rivals who can’t stand each other but are also Twitter friends and have no idea. And it’s the traditionally published debut of an author I’ve been following on Twitter for a long time. I love a good enemies-to-lovers story for those moments when they’re starting to fall for each other but also haven’t learned how to co-exist. You get so much good tension and banter while also getting the slowly growing understanding of who the other person actually is instead of the 2 dimensional fictional one you’ve made up in your head to hate. This book absolutely nails this trope and it makes up for my general frustration with miscommunication as a trope, which this book also has a lot of. But as much as I love Owen and Victoria and the different layers of them we get to see explored throughout the story, this book is a love letter to Internet Friends. Which yes, deserves to be capitalized because it’s a unique type of friendship that is no less deep and real and intimate than friendships that first form off-line but there’s a different feel to them that this book captures PERFECTLY. And it is extremely satisfying to see them written by someone who clearly gets it. The group DMs are an absolute delight and are what made me adore this book as much as I did. 

The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon Fake dating, female friendships, and two characters learning they are so much more than they let themselves believe they could be, what more could I ask for? I continue to love the friendship between Taylor, Samiah, and London and how it has become such an integral portion of their lives. Sometimes you just meet people at exactly the right time and right way and it’s like the pieces fall into place and things are finally as they should be and these women are that for each other. Romances are never just about how the main pairing gets together, they are also about how they grow as people to be ready to come together and that is something Rochon does so beautifully. Seeing Taylor and Jamar work through their issues and admit things they have spent a very long time blaming themselves for and not saying is something that will always be something I latch onto as a reader. And it’s only fitting that in them doing so, it helped a little with one of mine. I was reading this book over my mom’s birthday, the first since her death. And it was hard and I was scared it was never going to get any easier. Then I read these lines, “People say it gets easier, but that’s a lie. Every day is a hard day, but there’s something about the milestones that hit differently.”, and it was like a switch flipped in my brain that I wasn’t letting myself accept. It didn’t have to get easier for me to live with it. That part is a journey I’m still working out but it was a start at the time I needed it the most 

Science Fiction

A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers Once again, this was a book written by an author I love and had very high expectations for. I knew a Becky Chambers book was going to make me feel comforted and think and imagine new ways of being because she writes in such a specific way that really resonates with me. All books, especially sci-fi and fantasy books, are a peek into a different world. But hers are so rich and populated and inviting that they almost feel like ones you used to know but had just forgotten about. You get to live in them and sit with them and be a little better knowing that they exist somewhere, even if it’s only in the shared minds of the people who read it. I love the concept of a tea monk and having a place to go to release some of your worries and burdens for a little while so you can keep going and the mental journey Sibling Dex takes throughout the book. I love Mosscap’s very different viewpoints and they way they are able to gently challenge Sibling Dex’s and present a different path. Most of all, I love the unexpected friendship between the two and would read as many novellas with them as Chambers wants to write. 

Nonfiction

The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor When it comes to nonfiction, there’s a spectrum that you need to take into account before you read it. On one hand, there’s the books that you are ready for. Your understanding is at a solid enough point that they’re able to push you forward and make you think about things in new ways. On the other end, there are the books you know you aren’t ready for yet. There’s an emotional journey you haven’t made or a reality you haven’t wanted to face and those books get put back on the shelf. This book sits right in the middle. It’s one I really loved and appreciated on first read but also know I’ll continue to grow into it. It’s a short book but it asks a lot of the readers. The concept of radical self-love and it being our natural state is a hard one to swallow. What’s also hard to swallow is all the ways we uphold and contribute to the system that makes that such a difficult truth. It is uncomfortable to read and it knows it because growth doesn’t come from staying comfortable (or ignorant). It doesn’t let us look away but it also shows us the potential of what adopting this worldview looks like on a larger stage and what society and the world could be. It’s one I know I’ll come back to in the future and I look forward to finding and embracing new takeaways from it. 

Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson I am a particularly large fan of Robinson’s specific comedy style of blending insightful commentary on modern life with pop-culture references and a stream of consciousness flow. There’s structure to each essay and it’s clear that Robinson knows what she’s talking about but the less formal nature of it allows it to go places that it might not otherwise. Because that’s how we come to conclusions sometimes, we speak with parenthetical asides and veer onto wild tangents before pulling things back to whatever we were talking about. And for a book that’s a lot about the pandemic and everything that was 2020, that’s what it needed to be. If you liked her first two books, there’s a lot to like in this one and it felt like coming back to visit with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. 

You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union If you read one book from this list, I’m inclined to recommend this one the most. It is brave and honest and vulnerable and full of grace and understanding. Union gives it to herself as she looks back on her journey since her previous (also highly recommended) book and she passes on that feeling to her readers. It’s some of the most open storytelling I’ve seen from a memoir in a while and a picture of a person sitting in and recognizing her full truth. And it’s inspiring as hell. She has clearly worked to get to the internal place she is in right now and knows it’s a continual journey that will never stop. I loved each essay, from the light to the heavy, and I appreciate her sharing so much of herself with the world.  

1 thought on “Best of 2021: Books

  1. I loved all of this, babe. I love having new recs (starting with my Christmas present!) and how you write about each one with love and care. But this part, this is where you made me cry:

    “I was reading this book over my mom’s birthday, the first since her death. And it was hard and I was scared it was never going to get any easier. Then I read these lines, “People say it gets easier, but that’s a lie. Every day is a hard day, but there’s something about the milestones that hit differently.”, and it was like a switch flipped in my brain that I wasn’t letting myself accept. It didn’t have to get easier for me to live with it. That part is a journey I’m still working out but it was a start at the time I needed it the most”

    I am so proud of you for being vulnerable and writing about this and sharing this with us. And I’m proud of you for using media for exactly what we know it does best—reminding you that it’s OK to feel and allowing you the space to work through those feelings in a way that feels healthy and good. I am so happy that book gave you the words you needed when you needed them the most, and I am so grateful you’re sharing them with us now. I love you a whole lot, and I want to wrap you in the world’s biggest hug because I know that couldn’t have been easy to write, but I’m so happy you did. ❤

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