Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I Read In 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about our best 2021 reads. Like always, I have elected to focus my list on 2021 releases rather than the universe of everything I read over the course of the year. I didn't read as many new releases as I often do, as my overall reading total was down as well, so some of these I didn't actually like very much at all. They're in order from most-to-least enjoyed, though, so the ones at the top were the best.

Dog Park: This book, translated from the Finnish, is about a woman living in Helsinki and working as a housekeeper, who often goes to a local park to watch a couple and their children in the park. Her connection to that family, as well as to another woman who suddenly arrives and knows all about her former life in Ukraine, unravels slowly over the course of the novel. 

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev: The oral history format that worked so well in smash hit Daisy Jones & The Six is applied to a deeper, more interesting story. Opal and Nev were an unlikely rock duo, a bold and brash Black girl from Detroit and a shy songwriter from the UK who teamed up to make music together until an incident at a show with a Confederate-sympathizing band that created an iconic photo and sent the two on very different paths. As a reunion is teased, the true story of what happened that fateful night might just change everything.

The Night the Lights Went Out: I've long loved Drew Magary's writing for the internet and remember full well when reports that he'd had some sort of medical episode from which he might not recover hit Twitter. He did, happily, recover, and wrote this book about his experience of having and recovering from (to the extent possible) a massive brain hemorrhage. It gets a little repetitive by the end but he's a very talented writer and it's quite good. 

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch: If you think you don't like historical fiction, this might be a good book for you despite the fact that it's exactly that. It doesn't concern royalty, or feature steamy love affairs. Instead, it tells the story of how one acerbic old woman living in a small village in Germany comes to be accused of witchcraft, and how this effects not only her but her son, a court official. It's funny and smart and loosely based on real-life events.

Forget Me Not: I loved Alexandra Oliva's debut, The Last One, and so was really excited for her sophomore effort. It's a twisty thriller-type story, set in the near future, about a girl who grows up on an isolated estate and finds out only after she escapes as a teenager that she was meant to replace a previous child, a sister, who died. Her early life, and background as a subject of internet interest, means she can't ever really trust anyone's intentions towards her...but when there is a fire at the property she grew up on, she can't resist the urge to go back and uncover what might have been lost. It's uneven and never really clicked for me.

The Ballerinas: Three young ballerinas, two French and one American, train together and become best friends at a prestigious ballet school in Paris. At some point, two of them do something bad to the other, and one of them all-but-disappears to Russia for over a decade. Making her return to her native France as a choreographer at the same ballet where she once danced, we follow two parallel timelines to figure out what happened way back when...and how it'll play out now. The first half is strong, but the second loses steam and gets very predictable.

The Wife Upstairs: A southern-fried retelling of Jane Eyre, this seemed to be something right up my alley as a fun read, but while some of the winking to the original text is clever and the story is entertaining enough, the present-day Mr. Rochester seems fishy from the start and the slow burn of the growing romance with Jane that makes the original so very compelling all these years later is absent. 

The Human Zoo: This book tells the story of Ting, a woman raised in both the Philippines and the United States who returns to the former from the latter as her marriage is dissolving, ostensibly to research a book about a Filipino who was exhibited throughout the US as a part of the title traveling show, but mostly to rest and recharge among her family and friends. She's drawn back into life in Manila, including the orbit of an ex-boyfriend who continues to pursue her despite his marriage, but can't ignore what a Duterte-like dictator is doing to the country. It never really goes anywhere despite some well-crafted characters. 

All Girls: I am always looking for books to scratch that "dark academia" itch, but this book (more interconnected vignettes than a proper novel), though set at a boarding school, didn't hit for me. There's an ostensible through-line about an attempt to uncover a sex scandal that the administration is trying to hide, but it's mostly about teenage girls attempting to navigate the kinds of expected obstacles their environment presents them with: simmering racial and class tensions, the difficulties of relationships, sexual assault. It's fine, just unspectacular.

Madam: Another attempt at dark academia, this one at least meets the criteria a little more closely. This, too, is a boarding school story, but there's an appealingly gothic element to the isolated Scottish setting and the young teacher, Rose, who is drawn there as a rare outside hire by the prestige of the school and the commensurate paycheck. Alas, the "mysteries" of the school are pathetically easy to guess at and the plot is often ridiculous.


  1. I’d love to read the Ballerinas.

  2. Several new to me titles on your list. I'm interested in Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch and Madam.