Monday, December 13, 2021

Top Twelve Books of 2021

Sorry, even with omitting rereads and combining series into single entries as per usual, I just can't get it down to ten this year. I've read so many good books this year that I want to tell y'all about. And I'm also going to have honorable mentions because I can't not. Before I get to my list, though, I want to mention my rereads of the year, because obviously they're good enough to get attention: Ranger's Apprentice, The Lunar Chronicles, The Hunger Games trilogy, and Percy Jackson, all on audio through my library. They're great stories that were definitely worth the revisit.

Now to my top twelve new-to-me books of 2021.

12. Balance Point by Kathy Tyers

The New Jedi Order series has been rather hit or miss writing-quality-wise so far, but I consider this one to be solidly in the better half of the series. Plus, Kathy Tyers is a Christian, a Realmie, and an Enclave author, and how cool is that? Balance Point is somewhat towards the middle of NJO, and one of my favorites partially because of the author, but also largely because this is the book where Luke and Mara find out they're expecting Ben. Ben Skywalker is precious to me, and Kathy does a really good job writing Luke and Mara. After all, she shipped them right off when she first read The Thrawn Trilogy. This is also where Han and Leia reconcile after Han's difficulties dealing with Chewie's death, and there's great stuff with the Solo kids too. It's well written and on the whole, Kathy does a good job with the characters. It's a good one.

11. Traitor by Matthew Stover 

Matthew Stover has the kind of talent writers dream of. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what about his writing is so good, but his talent seems to be well recognized among both the fandom at large and the other Expanded Universe writers. This is the story of Jacen's experience as a Yuuzhan Vong POW, and it just really delves deep into who Jacen is, philosophy, emotions, torture...all the things. What really floors me is how he can effectively switch between past and present tense in a way that feels totally natural and really packs a punch and is just perfection. I'm not sure many—if any—other authors could pull that off. And for Stover it works so well. It's a very character-focused book, which I love, really explains a lot of what Jacen does in the future, and is just good. The bit where Jacen went home to his family's apartment on Vong-formed Coruscant and sat there lethargic and hallucinating his dead brother broke me.

10. Soulminder by Timothy Zahn

This one was rather different. It's not exactly a novel so much as several stories about the same topic. Dr. Adrian Sommers, who lost his son in a car accident, devotes his life to developing Soulminder—a technological marvel that temporarily captures the human soul to be reunited with the body once the body has been repaired. A device that could have saved his son’s life. But not everyone thinks of Soulminder as simply a medical miracle. There are other ways to use it, and the ways it is corrupted get worse and worse. Sommers was warned that Soulminder could become a demon. And now he has to decide what to do about it. It's odd, but fascinating, and really makes you think deeply about your immortal soul, ethics, death, and what it truly means to be alive. It's also the only non-Star Wars Zahn book I've read and I do believe I should read more.

9. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Full disclosure: This one made me cry. I was 100% bawling in the car on the way home from teaching violin while I was listening to this book. Rose Howard has high functioning autism, a single dad who doesn’t understand her and only gets mad when she acts like herself, a beloved uncle, a beloved dog named Rain (reign, rein), and an obsession with homonyms and prime numbers. (I personally prefer numbers that are a power of a whole number, but that’s okay. Rose can like her prime numbers.) Rain gets lost during a hurricane and Rose has to find her. But what ensues, well, some things happened that I wasn’t expecting and there were jaw drops and tears. While I was driving, mind you, since this was my car audiobook. I don’t want to give spoilers, but read this book. The ending felt a tad abrupt, but that’s really the only complaint I have about it. I love Rose and I love Uncle Weldon, I can’t stand Rose’s dad, and I have so many emotions about this book. So just go read it.

8. The Messengers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Did Margaret Peterson Haddix release a new book? Yes? Then obviously it's on my top books of the year post. I reread the previous books in this series via audio in preparation for the release, and I'm glad I did. This series, like the rest of Haddix's books, is fabulous. Secret codes, mysterious events, the kidnappings of children with the same names and birthdays as the three main characters...putting duct tape over my mouth right now because if I say anything else I’ll definitely tread into dangerous spoiler territory. This one was very good and I feel like it was especially relevant. Seek truth. Make your own choices. Don’t blindly believe what your leaders say. Don’t live in fear and despair. And love others. Help them. Because nothing combats fear and lies like love and truth. Is it the strongest book of the series? No. Ending series still isn't Haddix's strong suit, though I'd certainly argue that this book was a far better ending than the final book of The Missing (which is still my top favorite Haddix series despite the last book having a different protagonist than the first seven). And while I may not have talked up Haddix books on here the way I have others *cough* Elven Alliance *cough* y'all definitely need to check out her books. There's a reason she's one of my favorite authors and I already have her next book on hold at the library even though it doesn't come out until March.

7. Hunger by Jill Williamson

Now, I probably should have reread Thirst before I read Hunger. I had to pull it out a few times to refresh my memory. ("Wait, how did Hannah hurt Eli's hand again?") But even so, it was great. Having read The Safe Lands now, it was really cool making all the connections about why different things became the way they were, how different family lines ended up in different places, etc. I'm not quite sure what to say about this book that won't spoil it and/or The Safe Lands, but disease, questionable “government,” danger, intrigue, PTSD, drama 🙄 Jaylee 😜, Eli is awesome, I love Hannah, and go read these books and The Safe Lands. Because they’re awesome. I wanted to reread Safe Lands after this, but I'd have to get the first two from the library, and I've had so many new-to-me books to read I just haven't gotten to it. Plus, I do most of my rereading on audio these days. Hint, Jill?

6. Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham

So far, this is my favorite NJO book for a couple of reasons. (1) It's character-driven and well-written. The writing of some Star Wars books is mediocre at best, but that's certainly not the case with this one. (2) The author read the Young Jedi Knights series before writing this and it shows. There are certainly times when characters get mischaracterized in SW, particularly when children's book characters are brought into the adult books. Not the case in Dark Journey. Elaine Cunningham showed herself to have an in-depth knowledge of the Solo kids and their friends. (3) Hapan politics is fascinating. Hapes is a mess of power plays and backstabbing and assassination attempts, and it makes a fascinating and dangerous setting for Jaina to work out her grief over the loss of her brothers...a grief that leads her towards the Dark Side. (4) Jag Fel is back! I've loved Jag since I first met him in Fate of the Jedi (yes, I read SW ridiculously out of order), but when early in NJO he told off crooked, conniving, self-centered, just plain awful politician Borsk Fey'lya, he cemented himself as one of my favorite SW characters. Jag is just 😍. Plus I'm a big fan of Jaina Solo. Even though she's spiraling into a dark place in this book. I mean, she just tragically lost both her brothers and she's too much like her father to handle it well. (Apparently the GR reviews of this one are mostly bad? Whatever. I loved it.)

5. Dangerous Secrets by Mari Mancusi

I may be a little stitious because after starting off 2020 with a Frozen II tie-in novel, I wasn't sure I wanted to start off 2021 with a Frozen II tie-in novel. But my love of Frozen won out and I got it from the library anyway. Did it cast bad luck on 2021? Maybe. 😂 Anyway, this is my favorite Frozen book I've read. I mean, I've only read three, but still. This is the story of Iduna and Agnarr, Elsa and Anna's parents. It took me a few chapters to get into it because it started off just rehashing backstory from Frozen II, but once it got into original material, it was fabulous and amazing and I loved it. Iduna is keeping the secret that she's actually Northuldra, but she can't do that forever. Especially since she and Agnarr are becoming more than just friends. It was just a really good story, it really pulled me into the world of Frozen, and I'd consider it a must-read for every Frozen fan.

4. Apprentice by Kristen Young

Realmie book! The instant I saw this book in the Realm Makers bookstore, I knew I had to have it. The cover just spoke to me. Then when it won several Realm awards and they read an excerpt during the announcement, I doubly knew I had to have it. I didn't get around to it until Thanksgiving break, but then I read it in two days. And now I desperately need book 2. Apprentice Kerr Flick remembers everything... except for anything that happened to her before she was five. She wants to be the best of the best in the Love Collective, and her perfect memory may get her there, but then she starts having strange and frightening hallucinations that threaten to disrupt her understanding of all she knows. It's a dystopian, and as a dystopian reader, it's pretty obvious what the Love Collective truly is, even if it isn't to Kerr Flick, but that didn't matter to me. I still loved it to pieces and dreamed about the characters the night I finished it. Sif! 😭 And I need Elite

3. Escape From Falaise by John Flanagan 

New Ranger's Apprentice book? Of course it's on my list. (I feel like if you've been following me for a couple years and have a general knowledge of what books came out in a given year, you can pretty well predict a good portion of my list.) I may have told multiple professors about this series the week it came out because I just couldn't help myself. I may also have jabbered on about the series to coworkers. I wouldn't say Escape From Falaise is the strongest book in the series since at times it felt a little rushed, but I still loved it and read it in two days during Thanksgiving break. Will and Maddie and Halt and Horace! I love them all so dearly and any time I get to spend with them is well worth it. At the end of the last book, Will and Maddie were captured while trying to rescue a kidnapped prince, and this book sees them out of that cliffhanger and through the end of the adventure. I definitely listened to the "one more chapter" lie way too many times when I was in the middle of this book, but I was on break. Sleep deprivation is okay. Also, if you haven't read Ranger's Apprentice yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?

2. Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

I cried. And then I walked up the stairs and handed it to my mom, and she cried too. Megs Devonshire’s little brother George, who has a terminal heart condition, becomes captivated by the new book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and has to know where Narnia came from. Since Megs goes to Oxford, he begs her to find out. Jack and Warnie invite Megs over repeatedly to tell her stories of their lives, but it doesn’t explain Narnia to her…or does it? It may not be able to be explained in a concrete, mathematical manner like Megs wants, but it’s life changing nonetheless. I read this book in a single day, the last day of Thanksgiving break, and I loved it so incredibly much. As a Narnia and C.S. Lewis fan, it filled something in me I hadn't realized needed to be filled, and it's just such a beautiful (and heartbreaking) book. Narnia fans everywhere, do not miss this book.

1. Troll Queen and Pretense by Tara Grayce 

I don't yet have a copy of Pretense, so this photo will have to do. ESSIE AND FARRENDEL ARE SO ADORABLE AND EDMUND AND JALISSA ARE SO ANGSTY BUT THEIR STORY IS PERFECT AND ALL THE DANGER AND INTRIGUE AND ALL THE FLUFFINESS AND YES, ALL CAPS ARE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Ahem. I can't say a ton about the storyline without giving spoilers for earlier books, but Elven Alliance remains amazing, I read them as quickly as is possible, and I want a Farrendel. Farrendel as a college student is adorable and Farrendel excited about becoming [redacted] is even more adorable and I love it so much. Also, I really like the fake dating trope, which is how Edmund and Jalissa's story plays out. And...okay, I'm having trouble determining what would be spoilery and what wouldn't, so I'd better put some duct tape over my mouth now just in case. Read Elven Alliance. And fangirl over Farrendel with me.

Honorable mention goes to the Unblemished Trilogy by Sara Ella and Brand of Light by Ronie Kendig for being awesome, though it was a little difficult to keep all the characters straight, and to Bluebeard and the Outlaw and Stolen Midsummer Bride by Tara Grayce for also being awesome, if a little short. For the full list of books I've read in 2021, click here.