It’s that time of the year again – for recaps and best-of lists! It’s a little less than 3 days before the calendar finally flips to a new year and I’m having a weird itch to write this post. I don’t want to repeat my mistake last 2020 and not write any recap so I’m holding on to this feeling. These are my favorites books I’ve read this 2021 – both fiction and non fiction:
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix up their own marriage. There’s a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.
Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in a motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next. (via Goodreads)
I feel like I’ve been screaming about this book every chance I got since I finished it. If I could include Anxious People in all the best-of lists in the world, I would. I can’t begin to explain how this book changed my life and how this story (and Fredrik Backman‘s writing particularly in this book) continues to provide comfort to me. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but know that this is one of the most wonderful stories I’ve ever read this 2021. It helped me in a time when I needed it most. There are so many major nuggets of wisdom that one could get from this book: about growing up, parenthood, dealing with regret, the value of human connection, getting over mistakes, etc. I can’t properly describe what I’m feeling towards this book but what I can make clear is that this book is so dear to me. I loved how it emphasized how we can affect people, in the most mundane of ways that leave lasting impact still. How one action can lead to another and all we really need is too look more closely to see that each of them, too, is just trying to get by. Maybe it’s the time I read it, the way I feel when I read it – but this remains to be one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read. 💛
Life’s Too Short (The Friend Zone, #3) by Abby Jimenez
When Vanessa Price quit her job to pursue her dream of traveling the globe, she wasn’t expecting to gain millions of YouTube followers who shared her joy of seizing every moment. For her, living each day to its fullest isn’t just a motto. Her mother and sister never saw the age of 30, and Vanessa doesn’t want to take anything for granted.
But after her half-sister suddenly leaves Vanessa in custody of her infant daughter, life goes from “daily adventure” to “next-level bad” (now with bonus baby vomit in hair). The last person Vanessa expects to show up offering help is the hot lawyer next door, Adrian Copeland. After all, she barely knows him. No one warned her that he was the Secret Baby Tamer or that she’d be spending a whole lot of time with him and his geriatric Chihuahua.
Now she’s feeling things she’s vowed not to feel. Because the only thing worse than falling for Adrian is finding a little hope for a future she may never see. (via Goodreads)
This was one of my most anticipated books this year particularly because I enjoyed Abby Jimenez’ writing in her The Friend Zone series. Life’s Too Short is more than just a love story. There were too many lessons to be learned and things to be picked up from it. This book taught and reinforced to me that you should do everything you can to live your life – start discerning which are noise and which are worthwhile in the grander scheme of things. That it’s not enough to just live to survive, that you need something to look forward to and to find what truly makes you happy in life. If you haven’t read any of the books in the Friend Zone series, you’re seriously missing out. Life’s Too Short in particular is a gem of a story and one that will stay with me for a long time. 🤍
(Just) Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Two best friends.
One missed chance.
And a night that changes everything.
Eve, Justin, Susie and Ed have been friends since they were eighteen. Now in their 30s, the four are still as close as ever, Thursday pub quiz night is still sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed.
Maybe Eve should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed sometimes thinks about it too.
Then one night, in an instant, all their lives change forever. And, as Eve learns she didn’t know her friends as well as she thought, she also discovers she isn’t the only person keeping secrets… (via Goodreads)
When I was taking stock of all the books I’ve read this 2021, it surprised me that this book kept popping up in my head. (Just) Last Night was a delightful and heartbreaking surprise just because I found out about Mhairi McFarlane‘s new book while I was just randomly scrolling through Scribd. I love when I read books that forcefully put things into perspective. And I love reading about stuff that makes me want to live my life to the fullest again. This is one such book. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read this 2021 and Mhairi McFarlane has never let me down. This book, if anything else, has one of the most honest and affecting writing on grief: how monumental and personal a feeling it is. I loved, loved, loved every minute of it – even if I was a mess for most of it. I had high hopes for this going in (partly because of this review written by Emily Henry) but it certainly didn’t disappoint. Ultimately, I believe this is still a tale of hope and moving forward as it is a story largely rooted in grief. If you want to have a good cry (as I did), I definitely recommend this one.
The Emperor’s Soul (Elantris) by Brandon Sanderson
Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.
Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.
Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit. (via Goodreads)
The Emperor’s Soul packed so much punch in so little pages that I was really baffled and amazed at how Brandon Sanderson was able to accomplish it. Wan ShailLu is probably my favorite Cosmere heroine as of now and that says a lot. This book also gave me (probably) my favorite magic system that I’ve read in the Cosmere universe: Forgery. If I put The Emperor’s Soul side by side with Sanderson’s other works, this may probably be classified as a quieter book. The conflict is contained, and everything is just so subtle and “quiet” (if that makes sense). Yet it is a page-turner, which is a delicate and hard balance to achieve. It relies heavily on character work without sacrificing plot points and major twists. And that delicious Epilogue? That last 3 pages and that full-circle moment made me stare at a wall for a while and just admire how brilliantly crafted this story was. Fantasy fans revere this work and I can definitely see why. This is hands down the best novella I’ve read this year.
These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
When Paul and Julian meet as university freshmen in early 1970s Pittsburgh, they are immediately drawn to one another. A talented artist, Paul is sensitive and agonizingly insecure, incomprehensible to his working-class family, and desolate with grief over his father’s recent death.
Paul sees the wealthy, effortlessly charming Julian as his sole intellectual equal—an ally against the conventional world he finds so suffocating. He idolizes his friend for his magnetic confidence. But as charismatic as he can choose to be, Julian is also volatile and capriciously cruel. And admiration isn’t the same as trust.
As their friendship spirals into an all-consuming intimacy, Paul is desperate to protect their precarious bond, even as it becomes clear that pressures from the outside world are nothing compared with the brutality they are capable of inflicting on one another. Separation is out of the question. But as their orbit compresses and their grip on one another tightens, they are drawn to an act of irrevocable violence that will force the young men to confront a shattering truth at the core of their relationship. (via Goodreads)
The superior TVD, if I must say (sorry not sorry 🙈). Micah Nemerever‘s These Violent Delight is such sweet torture. It caught me off guard with its beauty. It was oh so incredibly complex and lovely and sick in the best and worst possible ways. This book features one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever read and is written in such intoxicatingly exquisite prose. (It even prompted me to create a quotestagram: @_thatoneline) This is probably one of those books that I really enjoyed more because of the writing rather than the story. If given a generic treatment, I don’t think this story would shine. But luckily, it was an intoxicating riot. This was obsession and compulsion and subtle cruelty – painted in the most breathtaking of ways through words. That ending and that last line would haunt me for a long time. Nemerever is such a revelation – it’s hard to fathom how this is a debut!
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub “The Dreamers,” who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences. (via Goodreads)
Speaking of debuts that blew my socks off: I picked up Hanya Yanagihara‘s debut novel, The People in the Trees this year. I feel like I am experiencing an emotional breakdown probably at least once a month about Yanagihara’s more known book, A Little Life. But in this book in particular, I had one of the most confusing and unsettling reading experiences ever in my life. It just forces you to think. I had a difficult time reading this book even from the beginning – it’s hard to read from the perspective of someone whose values you don’t agree with. It was extremely uncomfortable. When I finished this, I was deeply unsettled. Hanya Yanagihara managed to worm into my mind and now I’m left confused as heck and questioning my feelings towards characters, events, and intentions. And after a few days of mulling things over, it slowly morphed into this *thing* that I can’t stop thinking about. It reads as it feels: suffocating, fascinating, disturbing.
Sustained (The Legal Briefs, #2) by Emma Chase
When you’re a defense attorney in Washington, DC, you see firsthand how hard life can be, and that sometimes the only way to survive is to be harder. I, Jake Becker, have a reputation for being cold, callous, and intimidating—and that suits me just fine. In fact, it’s necessary when I’m breaking down a witness on the stand.
Complications don’t work for me—I’m a “need-to-know” type of man. If you’re my client, tell me the basic facts. If you’re my date, stick to what will turn you on. I’m not a therapist or Prince Charming—and I don’t pretend to be.
Then Chelsea McQuaid and her six orphaned nieces and nephews came along and complicated the ever-loving hell out of my life. Now I’m going to Mommy & Me classes, One Direction concerts, the emergency room, and arguing cases in the principal’s office.
Chelsea’s too sweet, too innocent, and too gorgeous for her own good. She tries to be tough, but she’s not. She needs someone to help her, defend her…and the kids.
And that — that, I know how to do. (via Goodreads)
Ah, Emma Chase‘s The Legal Briefs series. This series is a recent read from my November Romance Binge and it gave me one of the best romcoms I’ve ever read this year and probably all time: Sustained. I feel like I’ve professed my love for this book just about anywhere: discord servers, book twitter, bookstagram; I even recommended it to my sister. This book just straight-up made me so happy. I don’t like children normally, but apparently, I love reading about them if they are as adorable as the McQuiad kids. Add the narration which was pretty spot on. I don’t normally pay that much attention to who narrates my audiobooks but Sebastian York (a.k.a., Jake Becker) was such a delight. I know I’m super late to the party but if you haven’t yet, drop everything and read Emma Chase’s Sustained. It’s the perfect balance of romantic, hilarious, and spiciness. It has found family with adorable, adorable kids. Aside from the romance, it also deals with other kinds of love, reinvention of self, and also emphasizes the importance of having a mentor in your life: someone who believes in you. It’s all these different layers that really made this book so much more. It involves a lot of familiar tropes but the right combination, pacing, and writing took this book to another level. It was so worth it enduring the mediocre first book, Overruled.
Jade Legacy (The Green Bone Saga, #3) by Fonda Lee
Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now known and coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.
The Kauls have been battered by war and tragedy. They are plagued by resentments and old wounds as their adversaries are on the ascent and their country is riven by dangerous factions and foreign interference that could destroy the Green Bone way of life altogether. As a new generation arises, the clan’s growing empire is in danger of coming apart.
The clan must discern allies from enemies, set aside aside bloody rivalries, and make terrible sacrifices… but even the unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Green Bone clans and the nation they are sworn to protect. (via Goodreads)
Somewhere in my active drafts lies my Jade Legacy review. I can’t still put out a decent post about of this book that can somehow justify how wonderful my reading experience was. The Green Bone Saga is a masterpiece on a series and individual book level. Rarely have I considered a last book in a trilogy as my favorite but the conclusion to The Green Bone Saga is on a league of it’s own: Jade Legacy is hands down my favorite book out of this series – and also one of my favorite fantasy reads this year. It was such a technically difficult story to tie – a lot of subplots and a lot of new critical characters introduced – but in a stroke of genius, Fonda Lee managed to tie everything together in a neat little bow. I’m still reeling over this story even after weeks of finishing this book. The clan is my blood, and the Pillar is its master. On my honor, my life, and my jade. (And I hope I can finally muster up the mental energy to finish my review because I desperately need it in my blog. 😅)
Sweet on You (The Laneways, #1) by Carla de Guzman
All’s fair in love and prank wars
For barista and café owner Sari Tomas, Christmas means parols, family and no-holds-barred karaoke contests. This year, though, a new neighbor is throwing a wrench in all her best-laid plans. The baker next door—“some fancy boy from Manila”—might have cute buns, but when he tries to poach her customers with cheap coffee and cheaper tactics, the competition is officially on.
And Baker Boy better be ready, because Sari never loses.
Foodie extraordinaire Gabriel Capras wants to prove to his dad that his career choice doesn’t make him any less a man. The Laneways might not be Manila, but the close-knit community is the perfect spot to grow his bakery into a thriving business. He wasn’t expecting a gorgeous adversary in the barista next door, but flirting with her makes his heart race, and it’s not just the caffeine.
It’s winner takes all this Christmas. And more than one competitor might just lose their heart for the holidays. (via Goodreads)
I may have found the ultimate Pinoy Christmas romance in this Carla de Guzman book! This is a recent read and maybe I am just too caught up with the holiday spirit – but Christmas in the Philippines (more so in provinces) really hits differently! Sweet on You features a barista/café owner in Sari Tomas and a baker trying to make a name for himself in Gabriel Capras. Competition heats up as they try to poach each other’s customers – but they also find themselves thinking about each other more than necessary. I really enjoyed every bit of this. All the food references and holiday festivities made me feel the Christmas spirit more and more. Even the places mentioned in this book send a flutter in my chest. Familiarity is really a powerful tool – and it made me realize how different a reading experience is when accurate representation of a culture is on page. This is the perfect holiday read for December-festivities-obsessed persons like me.
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, PhD
Neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker provides a revolutionary exploration of sleep, examining how it affects every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. Charting the most cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and marshalling his decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood and energy levels, regulate hormones, prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, slow the effects of aging, and increase longevity. He also provides actionable steps towards getting a better night’s sleep every night. (via Goodreads)
Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep really turned my relationship with sleep on its head. It is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. If you want to know how sleep works, or maybe you’re looking for reasons why you can’t sleep, or better yet (like me) you’re looking for systematic ways to improve your sleeping hygiene – this book is the best place to start.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.
Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways–there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic. (via Goodreads)
There’s a lot to be said about Chanel Miller’s Know My Name but know that it deserves all the stars and praise everyone is giving it. There’s a reason you see it everywhere. This is maybe the most beautiful memoir I’ve ever had the chance of reading and it was up there among the best books I’ve ever read, including fiction – and that says a lot. Chanel will probably remain as one of the most inspiring persons I’ve ever come to know (even just through a book) and I am guessing that her existence and her story will always be a source of strength for me.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
A pioneering researcher and one of the world’s foremost experts on traumatic stress offers a bold new paradigm for healing.
Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Such experiences inevitably leave traces on minds, emotions, and even on biology. Sadly, trauma sufferers frequently pass on their stress to their partners and children.
Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy—and a way to reclaim lives. (via Goodreads)
Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score is probably one of the most, if not THE most important book I’ve ever read about trauma and PTSD. I believe it is one of those books, along with Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, that people should read at least once in their lives. If you’re a mental health professional or someone passionate about it, AND especially if you’ve suffered the effects of trauma or know people whose lives were greatly affected by it, I highly recommend this book.
I can’t even place my reading taste anymore because of how eclectic this list was. These aren’t necessarily “best” books on a technical basis but more so books that I really enjoyed – how I’ve always rated my reads anyway. I still am reading a couple of things right now and who knows? I might find a gem somewhere here. 💛