Our Favorite Books of 2021

This year was a busy one for us—we finally celebrated our marriage in-person with friends and family, and we bought our first home. Despite all of that, we managed to read quite a bit. Here are our favorite books we read in 2021:

Indiana’s Five

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell 
What an ambitious book; one that O’Farrell pulled off with aplomb. She explores the death of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son, almost entirely through the eyes of Agnes, Hamnet’s mother. Combining historical fiction, with family drama and a bit of magic, Hamnet went well beyond my expectations. 

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
I loved the format of this satirical novel, written in separate “acts” like a script or screenplay. As I wrote in my review for it, this book was a beautiful and strange punch to the gut. On the surface, Yu explores the glaring racism against Asian actors in Hollywood, however, he goes well beyond the bounds of Hollywood. 

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller
Part science-writing, part memoir, it explores the dark and sometimes inspiring career of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist who wanted to bring order to the world, capturing and cataloging all the fish he possibly could. The book takes a hard look at failure and loss and the importance of keeping on keeping on. 

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo 
It’s entirely unsurprising that this one is on my list. Anything by DiCamillo is an automatic favorite and this one was just as clever, wise, and well-written as her others. Filled to the brim with courageous and endearing characters, this is one I’ll be returning to over the years. 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
It might seem like an odd time to want to read an apocalyptic novel, especially one that feels as prophetic as Butler’s. However, I was hooked from the first chapter and it continued to be just as visceral and intricately plotted through the end. I’m hoping to read the follow-up next year. 

Pete’s Five

I read a record number of books this year at 74—13 more than my previous record! It was a fantastic year of reading, and narrowing down my favorites to five was not easy. 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Not only was this the best book I read last year, but it’s also in my all-time top ten. It’s a great book to go into without knowing much of the premise, but I’ll tell you that it’s a deeply magical book that packs a lot of humanity into a small package.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
This frame story made for a wonderful bedtime read. Hero tells legends to her lover, Cherry, in the form of vignettes that feel like epics—and they’re woven together by a powerful tale of women fighting against oppression.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
“Humans contact planet colonized by giant sentient spiders” might not be the most enticing pitch, but if you enjoy large-scale sci-fi that spans centuries, this book is a delight. Utterly haunting and thought provoking.

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama
I read most of this manga at the start of this year, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a cozy, magic-rich read. While each volume is fun and light hearted, Shirahama’s worldbuilding is impressive and she asks compelling questions about how ubiquitous magic would affect a society.

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang
It’s no surprise that Kuang wrapped up this dark fantasy trilogy so well. The last book was filled with twists and changes of fate until the last minute, and it brought Fang Runin’s story to a perfect conclusion. I can’t wait to see what else Kuang creates.

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