My Top 5 Books of 2021!

Happy New Year!

2021 was a tough year for a lot of us for many reasons, and I hope 2022 brings good things for all of you. I can’t say that 2021 was worse than 2020 because it wasn’t – I lost my Grandma in 2020 and almost lost my brother-in-law, whereas 2021 brought me what is essentially my dream job – but I definitely felt more drained in 2021 than I’ve ever felt before, and it had a real impact on the way I read.

So even though I still read plenty, I only have five books to share with you as my top books of the year. I’m hoping 2022 is brimming with excellent books – even if I ‘only’ read 20 books, I hope all 20 of them are fantastic!

As 2021 is now officially behind us, I’m going to share my favourite books of the year with you. And it’s a good job I waited until the first day of 2022 to do it – I finished the final book on this list 15 minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

This was the first novel I read in 2021, and I’ve re-read it at least once via audiobook. This has become such a comfort read for me, a book I can turn to when I want something gentle and hopeful, and I’ve no doubt I’ll revisit the audiobook again this year.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.

The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

Oh Jade City, I knew I’d love you, but I really did love you. I buddy read this one with Dini, reading it on my Kindle and listening to the audiobook (which is fantastic!), and it was such a fun experience to read and discuss it with her. This novel reminded me how much I love novels about families and reminded me that I need to keep reaching for Asian-inspired fantasy, because I so often love it.

Jade War by Fonda Lee

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Of course Jade War made this list, too! I wasn’t sure how the sequel could be as good as Jade City, but Fonda Lee somehow managed it by expanding the scope of her world and continuing to put her characters through some shit. Dini and I read this one together, too, and I loved being able to scream at her whenever something shocking happened.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

I adored this book. It’s rekindled my love for historical fiction – a genre I’d like to read more from in 2022, whether it’s historical fiction or historical fantasy like this one – and was such a delicious book to read, with magic and politics and the most Machiavellian protagonist I’ve ever read. A true *chef’s kiss* debut.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.

Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.

With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…

I’ve had a bit of a peculiar relationship with this trilogy. I enjoyed both The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, and there’s no denying that Arden’s writing is stunning, but neither of the first books really wowed me. The Winter of the Witch, on the other hand, knocked my socks off and is one of the best series finales I’ve ever read. The character arcs and the pacing were exquisite, and finishing it yesterday made me want to go back and re-read the whole series in full.

What were your favourite books of 2021?

11 thoughts on “My Top 5 Books of 2021!

  1. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    I had the same impression of Winter of the Witch! I’ve never read a trilogy/series/whatever that improved so steadily as that one did. If you had told me after the first book that I’d be crying at the third, I wouldn’t have believed you, haha. One of my favourite reads of 2021 was The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. Happy New Year!

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  2. Nicole @ BookWyrmKnits says:

    Great list! I enjoyed The House in the Cerulean Sea when I read it shortly after it came out, so I’m always happy to see other people enjoy it. I still need to read Arden’s Winternight trilogy; maybe 2022 will be the year I do.

    My favorite books this year leaned toward quiet and gentle SFF… things like Stephanie Burgis’ Scales and Sensibility and Beck Chambers’ The Psalm for the Wild-Built. I plan to look for more quiet SFF in 2022. Happy new year!

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  3. alisbooks says:

    I loved The House in the Cerulean Sea, too! I’m hoping to get to Jade City soon. Here’s hoping 2022 is a better year for us all. I know the last couple years have been draining on us!

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  4. dinipandareads says:

    Such a great list, Jess! I really need to finish SWBTS and I need to read KA’s series (only read the first book) but I plan to do that this year and hopefully everything goes to plan 😂 I can’t wait to finish TGBS books—hopefully, we can finish Jade Legacy together?! I hope 2022 brings you some amazing reads!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jessicabookworm says:

    Although a smaller amount, this sounds like a wonderful, exciting and exotic selection of books that you have enjoyed the most. I am pleased you have been able to enjoy these so much, escaping another tough year. I haven’t read any these, however I really must check out Katherine Arden’s trilogy.😃

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