The Broke and the Bookish created Top Ten Tuesday in June of 2010. It moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
So many good books this year that it was really tough to narrow it down to 10 best books. I’m a mood reader so a lot depends on my mood when I read a book and when I review it. Heck, even my mood now plays into what I’m choosing.
Ask me tomorrow and I’d give you a different “10 best books” list. But this is now so here we go.
In no particular order – the best books that I read in 2021.
Dial A for Aunties
Jesse Q. Sutanto pulls off one madcap rom-com caper of a darkly humorous adult debut with Dial A for Aunties.
Fast-paced and darkly humorous with sweet romantic moments balanced by thoroughly bonkers what-did-I-just-read moments. I couldn’t stop laughing during the Chan family discussions. Each aunt had her own POV and well-developed voice along with quirks for days.
It might sound odd in a novel where hiding a corpse is a major plot point but I found moments really touching – Meddy’s love for her family and for Nathan was heartwarming.
A Marvellous Light
This is an Edwardian romance crossed with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Opposites attract, very sunshine and grump romance with a couple of incredibly spicy scenes. Plus you get all of the magic theory you could want, curse tattoos, ancient contracts, magical libraries, secret rooms hidden with spells, a killer hedge maze, and some intense intrigue.
The world-building is detailed and satisfying. The characters are complex and engaging. We get to see women like Robin’s sister Maud struggling against the boundaries that society’s placed on them. We see how even more difficult that struggle is when you’re a woman of color like Robin’s assistant, Adelaide.
Arsenic and Adobo
his book was so much fun to read! Lila is likable and relatable – trying to figure out what she wants, feeling pressure to meet her family’s expectations. I loved her interactions with her extended Filipino family – grudges going back to grade school but knowing that they’d have her back when it mattered. The imperious gambling grandmother was terrifying and hysterical. I loved that the huge colorful cast of characters was diverse in all sorts of ways – ethnicity, religion, sexuality and even eating habits. The author did a great job of giving each character their own voice and quirks.
The food descriptions were amazing! Lila’s bestie works at a coffee shop and her drink concoctions sounded so good. The book includes recipes and chicken adobo is happening!
The mystery was well done – lots of layers and interlocking pieces, several suspects with believable motives. Plus there were hints of a love triangle – hopefully, that gets explored in future books.
The Charm Offensive
Big shout out to Alison Cochrun for creating such a gloriously diverse cast! Gender, sexuality, ethnicity – there’s a rainbow of characters and I love it. It all felt very authentic with no tokenism or awkwardness. I also appreciated her sensitive handling of mental health issues. Characters talked openly about challenges and therapy without stigmatizing them. And when characters were insensitive jerks, other characters rightfully called them on it.
The Charm Offensive is a warm snuggle of a workplace, friends to forbidden lovers romcom with some seriously endearing dorkiness. The banter was witty – I now use Dev’s word “puzzing” to describe doing jigsaw puzzles.
So many of his exchanges with Charlie had me giggling with delight. The romance was warm, sometimes adorably awkward and I was cheering for it during every longing glance along the way.
Both characters were so relatable and felt so right and authentic together, I couldn’t help but cheer for them. The plot moved quickly and there were satisfying resolutions to subplots that contributed greatly to the HEA.
You Sexy Thing
You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo is a cross between Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books with Ann Leckie’s Radch series with a side of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. And I got a touch of Andre Norton with the talk of Free Traders and Forerunners.
This has a cast of characters who care deeply for each other and band together when things are difficult. Intriguing world-building where science, mysticism, and magic coexist along with a myriad of political systems in Known Space. Plus lots of cookies.
An easy summary is that this is a slow burn, enemies to lovers romance. With lots of cake. And yet it’s so much more!
So much found family love going on that it made my heart sing. Witty banter that sparkled like Sylvie’s edible glitter. Fantastic secondary characters screaming out for their own stories to be told. And since this is labeled #1 of the Palace Insiders series, I’m hopeful that we get Mabel and Pet’s stories.
There’s a gloriously cantankerous cat! A mystery to unravel. And there’s even some cake espionage happening. But the best is how we get to see how the characters care for each other. Even through sadness, misunderstandings, and their fear of opening up and heartache. They love each other – as friends, family, found family, and for some of them, as lovers.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built
This book while slight has large ideas. And Becky Chambers delivers with intriguing, well-thought-out, well-crafted world-building. Religion, harmony, ecological responsibility, acceptance of Other even when not understood.
There was a bit of a cautionary note – reference was made about Panga’s past with factories and petroleum dependence. And instead of foolishly plowing ahead, Panga’s people chose to pivot, rethink their society, and start making better choices,
I want to believe that we could do that now so I appreciate that instead of writing another dystopic scenario, A Psalm for the Wild-Built gives us common sense and hope.
How Sweet It Is
Despite her parents’ constant encouragement to enter the medical field, Kate Sweet is an amazing event (NOT party, thankyouverymuch) planner. She’s always prepared, spreadsheets at the ready as she purposefully strides about in her fierce stilettos. This is why her bestie asks for some last-minute help planning the ultimate book launch for Drake Matthews’, the Knight of Nightmares, new horror novel.
Horror isn’t Kate’s usual vibe of happy and fun events like weddings or bat mitzvahs but she’s game to help out her friend. She’s positive she can win over Drake with her Halloween-themed extravaganza. She doesn’t realize that Drake is intensely private with little interest in having his home turned into a circus freakshow.
Their first meeting is disastrous on all fronts (hello, stitches from stilettos) but Drake feels an instant attraction to Kate. Even better, she’s unknowingly acting as his muse. How will romance change his usual horror and what will his devoted fans think?
Comfort Me With Apples
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne Valente is a fantastical dark, fairytale.
Sophie lives in a perfect gated community in a gorgeous yet oddly scaled, for her, house, with a husband who’s often gone, working hard at his unnamed job.
Sophie’s neighbors seem to be trying to tell her something. And how did a sliver of bone end up in her knife block? Why is she forbidden from going into the cellar?
A Spindle Splintered
s a fairy tale lover, especially retellings, I was so excited to learn that her new book was a queer retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
Zinnia’s always known her expiration date; due to a rare medical condition, she expects to die by the time she turns 21. She’s got deep cut fairytale knowledge and a serious love of Disney princesses so when Zinnia’s 21st birthday arrives, her best friend does everything she can to give Zin a fairytale party right down to the tower and spinning wheel.
Magic happens and sends Zin into a multiverse of Sleeping Beauties. She lands in the world of a Beauty who doesn’t want the nap or the prince but is being compelled to follow the traditional storyline. It’s up to Zin to figure out solutions to both their problems before sleep and death claim them.
So, there you have it. My top 10 best books that I read in 2021. Are any of my picks on your list? Tell me in the comments below.