My 12 Favorite Books of 2021

I read 91 books this year, most trending towards horror and escapism. These are my favorites.

A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J. Maas

Okay, we’ll start off with the obvious. I read a Court of Thorns and Roses a few years back, and while it was decent fantasy, I wasn’t wild about it. I only picked this second in the series up when booktok started talking about how much of a departure it was from the first book. And thank you booktok. I can’t believe I almost missed out on a series containing all of my favorite romance tropes.

The Bayou, Arden Powell

This was a surprise find for me while searching for queer fantasy. It’s always a delight to find new southern gothic tales, as it is to find queer historical romance. Finding both in one place is a joy, and I hope this novel continues to get more attention, because it deserves it.

Verity, Colleen Hoover

No one twists and turns like Colleen Hoover. This was my first foray into her work, but not my last. It was the perfect starting place for me, given its resemblance to Rebecca, which happens to be the first gothic novel I ever read.

From Highbury With Love, Corrie Garrett

I love a good published Jane Austen fanfic, and this one combines some of my favorite character, who them manage complicate each others’ lives in new and interesting ways.

Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula, Bram Stoker and Vladimar Adsmundsson

When I learned that the Icelandic translation of Dracula diverged wildly from the original story, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed.

A Dowry of Blood, S. T. Gibson

Speaking of the count, how about a book where Dracula’s wives rebel? There’s a reason this queer, feminist take on Dracula has gained so much traction.

Pretty Broken Things, Melissa Marr

Another southern gothic horror, this one a retelling of Bluebeard. All the trigger warnings. All of them.

Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand

A folk band holes up in an old manor house to record an album. Told as a documentary, this will take you deep into British folklore.

Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant

Killer mermaids is the hook of this book, but that only scratches the surface of its charm. It has diverse, lovable characters and oodles of scientists making believably bad choices for the sake of science. If you’re an ocean person or a science person, you will love this.

Find Me, Ashley N. Rostek

I’ve developed a fascination with the audacity of reverse harem novels, and this one was my favorite of the year. And it truly is audacious. A girl in WITSEC, hiding from an obsessive serial killer, falls in love with the boys next door. How’s that for a premise? If you have any triggers, just assume they’ll be in this series. It is not for everyone, but if you like true crime and reverse harem, you might want to check it out.

The Suffering, Rin Chupeco

The companion book to The Girl From the Well, this book, about a a teen boy and his ghost, centers around Aokigahara in Japan. Both of these books were a wonderful introduction into the spookier parts of Japanese folklore, a subject that I did not know much about.

Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Another booktok favorite, my partner insisted on listening to this with me, despite having read it already. I still haven’t forgiven her for the ending.

Art will keep us whole

Every day I spend shaking in this shell
I get closer to the holy
watching my own kindnesses and foibles
what pains lead me toward humanity
and what pains simply drain the self away.

Every poem I write is a song for the end of the world
but I’ve never been good at endings
just noticing and forgetting
and I’m getting worse at forgetting.

I must find another way of letting go
a philosophy made of more than should-haves
of more than smoke.
I look at the sky and think I know
what’s to come
what I will become
I don’t

From this haze let me reconstruct reality
pinpointing every joy
discarding every tremor.
Let me build saints out of disasters
reaching back into our history to find
this has all happened before.

Let me be the calm before the storm:
a peaceful place within the war
a meaning beyond what this body tells me
a way for us to feel like more
than an ending.

While I continue to cough up a lung, I’m looking for ways to help. In isolation, trying to heal, there’s not much I can do. I’m writing and editing still, as I cannot help but continue, but I’m wishing that I had some lovely frivolous work to put out into the world right now. What many of us are craving is a bit of escapism. A reason to get off of social media and into a head space that has nothing to do with plague.

I thought I’d offer you some of my free favorites. As my tastes run from trashy to macabre, they might not match yours, but I offer them to you all the same. If they don’t match, find something else, and while you’re watching or listening, do something. Draw a picture. Bake a cake. Start some seeds. Continue, and don’t let yourself spiral too deep.

The Seattle Symphony

Here’s my only high-brow suggestion. The Seattle Symphony has live broadcasts as well, which is nice for feeling close to others while you listen.

Regency House Party

This is a reality tv show that I wish had as many seasons as the Bachelor. It’s ridiculous and I hope you love it.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Speaking of the Regency era, this show is a modern remake of Pride and Prejudice. It translates the material pretty brilliantly.

Glasgow Ghost Stories

Charming, spooky stories set in Glasgow. This is one of my favorites for listening to on a rainy night.

Goosedrunks

Goosedrunks is my favorite way to fall asleep. And hey, if you’re not sick, you can play along.

True Crime, but funny

Okay, Buzzfeed Unsolved is a favorite of thousands, and a gateway to true crime fandom in general. But I maintain that nothing gets your mind of plague like puzzling over unsolved serial killer cases. Plus, the Ghoulie Boys are always an entertaining pair.

Favorite Books of 2019

From non-fiction to poetry to trashy romance, I thought I’d list some of the best books I’ve read this year.

Future Perfect: A Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic, by Victoria Loustalot

I went on Goodreads to see how this book was categorized (memoir) and was surprised to see how poorly it was rated. This ramble into modern mysticism ruffled a lot of feathers, but I read it almost a year ago, and I’m still thinking about it, especially the chapter talking about the link between New Age beliefs and orthorexia. Don’t expect conclusions, but do expect plenty of thoughtful conversations.

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure, by Amy Kaufman

If you, like me, occasionally find yourself watching certain reality tv shows, you’ll enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the manipulation that goes into making people act like utterly unhinged on television.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon

Alternating chapters on the lives of a mother daughter combo whose works had an irreplaceable impact on our culture. I especially liked learning the details of Percy Shelley’s death by dick measuring with Lord Byron.

Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History, by Bridget Quinn

This book has irrevocably changed what I notice when I go to art museums.

I Am Not Your Final Girl, by Claire Holland

Feminist poetry about horror movies. If that description doesn’t convince you on its own, I don’t know what else to say.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Now that my anxiety is medicated, I’m much more able to read horror, so I decided to start off with this classic. That was at once a very good and a very bad idea.

A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

I finally got around to this book, and enjoyed the way it melded Tam Lin and Beauty and the Beast. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, but if it ends in anything but a thruple, I’m going to be pissed.

The Glamourist Histories, by Mary Robinette Kowal

One of the best series I read this year. The first book reads exactly like a Jane Austen novel, with just a dash of magic. Then events escalate, rapidly, in deeply satisfying ways. Want a typical Jane Austen heroine to deal with war? Oppression? Treason? Slavery? Then this is the series for you.

The Pageant, by Leigh Walker

I always wanted to write a book that people would say was “just like the Hunger Games, but with vampires.” Leigh Walker got there first and I am extremely jealous. At least, the Vampire Royals series is just like the Selection, but with vampires. If you’re trash like me and think that sounds delightful, you’ll probably devour this YA romance series in a weekend.

Variant Lost, by Kaydence Snow

I think I’ll get into reverse harem romances, I thought to myself at some point in November. I immediately happened upon this super-powered series, and it’s still the best I’ve read in the genre.