It’s that time of year again! That time when we start thinking about everything we read in the past year—what we loved, hated, and everything in between. This year, I revolutionized my reading by keeping a reading journal within my bullet journal. I kept notes there on each book I read. I found that this helped me internalize each book, think critically about the plot and writing style, and more clearly remember the books I read throughout the year.
Looking back on my reading in 2021, here’s what I found:
My top genres were mystery and thriller, which I’ve never read much of before this year. Many of my favorite books of the year fall into this genre, including my favorite series of the year, Tana French’s The Dublin Murder Squad and Anthony Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland’s series. In contrast, I also read some really bad thrillers and came to the conclusion I prefer crime/murder mysteries over physiological thrillers. We’ll see if this genre sticks!
I didn’t read much nonfiction at all, coming in with one essay collection, Disability Visibility, and just one memoir, Flesh and Blood by N. West Moss. I love memoirs, especially, so that’s something I want to read more of again in 2022!
Let’s get to the best books I read this year, by genre but in no particular order:
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
Summary: In a world divided by a coup, climate disaster rages. The Rain Heron follows different characters as they try to survive as well as the appearance of a mythical rain hero.
Dystopian; environmental; climate control; lyrical; magical realism
If you like: Abby Geni & books like Severance
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Summary: Silvie’s dad is an Ancient Britain/Iron Age enthusiast. He forces his family to spend 2 weeks a year living in the woods with an Archeology class and professor. This year, things change.
Favorite Quote: “Without a house, it occurred to me, it is much harder to restrict a women’s movement. Harder for a man to restrain a woman.” – page 59
This coming-of-age novel manages to have a conversation about misogyny and abuse in so little pages.
Content Warnings: Physical & Emotional Abuse
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Summary: Three sisters grow up on an isolated island with their father and mother. They’ve been told the outside world isn’t safe, and they are made to perform horrible experiments on each other. When men arrive from the outside world, they realize their parents might not be telling the truth.
Content Warnings: Sexual, Emotional & Physical Abuse
If you like: The Handmaid’s Tale
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Summary: This is a fictionalized account of William Shakespeare’s family and the death of his son, Hamnet, during the Black Plague.
Warning: This book will make you cry. I loved the magical element and creative liberties O’Farrell took with Shakespeare’s history.
Content Warnings: Death; Grief
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Summary: Lifelong friends and penpals Eileen and Alice live very different lives. One is a wealthy, successful author post-mental health collapse and the other has been stuck in the same job for years. When they finally decide to visit each other, tensions mount.
Don’t come at me, Sally Rooney haters. No one writes characters, dialogue, and life like Sally Rooney. This is a beautiful novel about mental health, fame, and how friendships change over time.
Thriller & Mystery
The Likeness by Tana French
Summary: When a woman named Lexie is found dead, Detective Cassie Maddox, who looks just like her, goes undercover as Lexie.
This is my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books so far and has dark academia elements.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Summary: Drawing Master Walter Hartright teaches art at an estate and becomes intrigued by a crime and the mysterious presence of a woman in white.
This massive book is surprisingly readable and reminded me of my love for Victiorian fiction.
Like all Victorian fiction, there are themes of madness, surveillance, and lack of women’s agency in society.
Northern Spy by Flynn Berry
Summary: Tessa’s word unravels when she finds out her sister is a member of the IRA.
This is a twisty novel about family, loyalty, and lies that helped contextualize the conflict in Ireland for me.
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Summary: Carly drops out of college and travels to the haunted town of Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv 20 years earlier.
There are some really terrifying ghost scenes in this, but this is ultimately one of the most heartwarming thrillers I’ve ever read.
Content Warnings: Sexual abuse
Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Summary: A woman, Cecily, disappears from Branlow Hall and the answer is hidden in a book by the late mystery writer Alan Conway. The family asks his ex-editor, Susan Ryeland, to find Cecily.
This book-within-a-book may be even better than the first book in this series! The plotting and double mystery is so cleverly written.
Yolk by Mary H.W. Choi
Summary: Jayne moves from Texas to New York for college and to flee from her first generation Korean parents. There she reunites with her older sister, June, who reveals she has cancer.
This is one of the most intense and emotional books I’ve ever read. Unlike other tear-jerker YA books that deal with cancer very badly, Yolk treats it with respect.
Content Warnings: Cancer; Eating Disorders
The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney
Summary: Following the death of her best friend, Rose struggles with PTSD. One day, trying to escape her grief, she ends up in a strange town that she can’t leave.
Warning: You won’t have a clue what’s going on for the first 100 pages or so, but this book is so creative, emotional, and interesting that you’ll want to keep reading. It’s all one big metaphor for PTSD.
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Summary: In a futuristic world destroyed by climate change, Kasey searches for her lost sister, Cee.
This book asks big questions about science and humanity, such as, if we don’t act to save the world now, when will we? And, when will we hold big polluters responsible? But at the center of all this is the complicated relationship between two sisters.
The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold
Summary: A group of kids try to survive a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by flu flies.
I loved everything about this book. It’s about sacrifice, found family, hope, survival, and it had a huge twist that blew my mind.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danworth
Summary: Dual timelines one-hundred years apart follow creepy happenings and strange deaths at The Brookhants School for Girls.
Admittedly this book could have been a lot shorter, but this sapphic mystery includes some of the best characterization I’ve ever read in YA.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters
Summary: When Natasha’s sister Rochelle disappears, she turns to the witchy girl, Della, who lives by the woods where she went missing.
Set in rural Tennessee, this is a really atmospheric and original fantasy/mystery with LGBTQ+ rep.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Summary: A fantasy based on Pre-Columbian American mythology.
This is a complex, perfectly paced fantasy that follows multiple characters. One of the biggest problems I usually have with fantasy as an adult is the length, and this book didn’t lag for one second. Black Sun ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
Summary: When orphaned siblings Anna, Edmund, and William are forced to leave London during World War II, they make a pact to find a new family in the countryside. Instead, they’re placed with several horrible families. Their only solace: the library .
If you liked: The War that Saved My Life
I binged this cozy middle grade treasure in one sitting. This is a great story about found family, the tenacity of children, and how books can save lives.
Happy reading! I’m excited to see what 2022 brings and hope that everyone has a great year, reading wise and otherwise.