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I thought it would be nice to end this year with a look back at all the books I read this year. Books have been a major part of my life, and have been a great comfort for me these past few years as my health has deteriorated and my world has become significantly restricted to a life lived within 4 walls. Being able to escape to other worlds and with characters who become like friends is a real joy, and keeps me going on my worst days, particularly with the use of audiobooks when migraines and fatigue make reading words on a page too challenging.
But 2021 brought an even greater depth to my world as I discovered a wealth of both LGBTQ+ books thanks to Queer Lit and Indie books thanks to the Twitter Community. I have read some wonderful books this year that have introduced me to characters that I relate to on so many levels, who have helped me discover things about myself that I hadn’t even fully recognised before, and who make me so passionate about them that I cannot help but tell the whole world about them over and over again. And so it feels only fitting to create a post celebrating all of the books that I’ve read this year.
Not so much a review post, rather a reflection of my time with these books and their characters
I’ve read a fair few books this year – 22 fiction books in this list, not counting the fact I read 3 of them twice! So I don’t have the time or energy to write a review of each one in this post. What I want to do, however, is write a short reflection on how I found each one – what it meant to me and how it felt to spend time in its pages, with its characters. I hope that will be helpful – after all, you can always look up the blurb for a book, but that doesn’t always tell you whether you’re likely to enjoy the book, does it?
I’ve been pretty lucky this year and actually really enjoyed the vast majority of the books I have read, so it’s going to sound like I’m gushing quite a lot about them. I don’t particularly like leaving negative reviews, it has to be said, but I promise you that I wouldn’t gush over a book if it didn’t deserve it! This year has been a very big year for me in terms of figuring out my identity, so perhaps that is why I have devoured so many books this year with such enthusiasm and delight. I don’t know. All I can say is that these books have meant an awful lot to me, and I hope that if you read some of them too they mean a lot to you as well.
A quick note about the list…
I can’t actually remember which order I read some of these books in, however much I try, because my memory is pretty sketchy these days (thanks brain fog!!) So I’ve decided that I’ll try and order this list in a different way instead. I’m going to start by listing all the audiobooks I listened to this year, and then the paperbacks and eBooks. Then in 2022 I’ll try and keep a better record of the books as I read them to make next year’s post easier to put together!
Please note I have kept this list to fiction only, as a lot of the non-fiction I have read this year have been books I have dipped in and out of and have not completed yet.
Audiobooks I have listened to in 2021
Yes, listening to audiobooks counts as reading!! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Oral storytelling is a tradition that far predates the written word, and we teach our children to read by reading to them. So listening to a story is as valid a way to read a book as any other. And if you get a good narrator, I actually think it can truly bring a book to life in an incredible way that you do not get with words on a page. *Gasp* did I just say that? Me, the writer? Eeek, are you all going to come after me now?
Anyway, all that said, here are my audiobook reads of this year…
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
This is an audiobook I originally picked up in one of the Audible 2 for 1 sales based solely on the title. I decided to listen to it around New Year and I really struggled to get into it at first. Cath reminded me too much of me I think, especially with how much she struggled to settle in at college. I found that actually annoyed me a lot – I guess nobody likes to be reminded of how anxious they once were, huh?
But by the end I had really warmed up to the cast of characters, how they had found their way through different challenges together. And I really wanted to know more about Simon and Baz, the characters Cath wrote fanfic about, as you will find out later…
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
This is one of those books that I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed as much had I read it in paperback form, because the voices the narrator gave to the characters really brought them to life in such an amazing way. I particularly loved the characters of both Talia and Chauncey!
Linus’ journey is such a special one, because it is one that I think most of us can imagine taking from our own privileged existence of sheltered ignorance to awareness of the reality of what has been hidden from us. Definitely a book to be read, and read again sometime.
As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper
I have to admit that I wasn’t prepared for this book and should have read what it was about a little bit more closely first. It triggered me a lot, especially the parts with disordered eating, and had I been better prepared for that I wouldn’t have struggled so much with it. It took me a long time to get through the book, with a big break in the middle, even with listening to it whilst pottering in the greenhouse planting seedlings.
That being said I am glad I listened to it. It has an important story to tell, and ends with an empowering message. But definitely go into it knowing it’s going to be rough going.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This was recommended to me by the lovely Lou who wrote Not Quite Out and so I knew it was going to be good. I was not disappointed. I absolutely adored the back and forth between Simon and Blue, it was simply adorable and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even with the awful thing that happened, I still felt everything was going to be okay. It was exactly what I needed. Do I need to say any more?
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
OMG! Simon and Baz!
Okay, so I first listened to this after my first Covid vaccine, when I was hit by fairly rough symptoms and stuck in bed for two days, and it was perfect listening. The narrator is AMAZING. He voices the characters perfectly, and the story is just incredible. I had listened to it twice already this year and been begging Thea to listen to it too and I finally got her to listen to it when we had to take a road trip for a hospital appointment and she was laughing along within minutes and I knew I had her hooked! I’ve even bought a copy for my sister for Christmas! This is how much I love this book!
Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
More Simon and Baz? Yes please!!
Okay, so Rainbow Rowell kinda pulled my heart to pieces with this book. Simon Snow has saved the World of Mages, but now he’s having a major identity crisis. Who is he? And what the hell does Baz still see in him? So they go on a wild adventure across America, of course…
It’s a great story, with plenty of laugh out loud bits, but my word after getting Simon and Baz together in the first book how could Rainbow Rowell put us through this much angst?
Any Way The Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell
Simon and Baz, together at last?
Well yes, but not before one last big whump of heartache! But then, OMG THEN!!
This is the book in which it all comes together. All of our main cast get their happily ever afters, and I couldn’t be happier. But it isn’t without some more angst along the way. And some more saving the World of Mages… because that’s what these characters do best. Obviously!
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
What can I possibly say about this book? It is just divine! The friendship between Yadriel and his cousin Maritza is stunning. From the very first page it is obvious that they would do anything for each other. It is also clear that this is exactly what is happening, as they perform the sacred ritual so that Yadriel can prove himself a real brujo!
And then the relationship that develops between Yadriel and Julian is absolutely sublime. The moment Julian changes Yadriel’s name in the yearbook was too sweet. And when they finally see each other in the hospital at the end? Oh, my heart!
Perfect On Paper by Sophie Gonzales
I made the mistake of starting to listen to this with a book group around the same time that I was listening to Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and at first it was a little confusing – two stories set around people sending secret messages? But it didn’t take long to get them clear in my head, thankfully!!
I found myself getting rather anxious whilst reading this because I just knew it was all going to blow up in Darcy’s face, and that she’d kinda brought it on herself in many ways. But I guess that’s the point – life is messy and we make stupid mistakes, right? Oh, the teen angst. If only I could stop feeling so much for these characters. That’s the sign of a good book though, no?
Loveless by Alice Oseman
This was the first book I’d read with an asexual character in, which was nice because this year I came to realise that I’m asexual and it made so much sense to me. And I’ve got to say that this is the book I wish I had had as a teenage girl!!
Georgia believes, in many ways, that love and romance is what we’re all destined for. And yet she doesn’t want to be kissed. She doesn’t experience attraction. She just doesn’t want any of that. What is wrong with her? I feel you, girl, I really do!
If anyone has any recs for more books with ace characters, please send them my way!!
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Okay so this book is one I heard so much about that I had to read it this year. So many people talked about how moving it was. And they weren’t wrong. It’s challenging. Felix goes through a lot of stuff in this book. There’s the posting of old photos of him pre-transition and transphobic messages, the challenging relationships with his parents, the desire for love and confusion over what that means and who it should be with. But most importantly, Felix discovers who he is and what he deserves. It’s a beautiful book. And I absolutely adore the relationships built between Felix, Ezra, and Leah throughout this book.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante is quite a whirlwind of a book. So much happens over the Summer in which they meet. And then there is all the introspection that goes on during the time they are apart. It is such a charming book in many ways, giving an insight into the mind of a teenage boy, uncertain of his place in this world, and his delightfully charming friend whose take on the world will make you laugh out loud multiple times. And the love they have for each other, even when Ari cannot quite bring himself to recognise that’s what it is, draws you in.
A Winter Flame by Milly Johnson
A slight change from my mostly LGBTQ+ reading this year, purely because I didn’t have any festive themed queer books lined up! This was in the Audible 2 for 1 sale and so I thought I’d give it a try, given the intriguing blurb of a woman who inherited a winter themed theme park.
I have to admit I struggled with this one somewhat. The main character annoyed me a fair amount with her attitude towards the love interest – she seemed so arrogant at times to me. And I didn’t like the employment of the “elves” either. But it still had some amusing parts and I did finish it, so it wasn’t all bad.
The Winter Garden by Heidi Swain
I read a Heidi Swain book last year and enjoyed it so was sure I would enjoy this one (another Audible 2 for 1 deal) and I was not disappointed. I actually still have the last few chapters to go, but I am loving it so far!
The characters are all charming, the setting is wonderful and makes me want to dive right in and join everyone at the “Winter Fest”, and I am really very pleased that Freya and Finn have got together part of the way through the book and not right at the end, so we get to enjoy plenty of romantic scenes throughout the second half of the book. What more could you ask for from a festive romance?
Paperback and Kindle Books I have read in 2021
Gosh I hadn’t realised just how many audiobooks I had listened to this year! I have read a few paperbacks and eBooks this year too though, mostly because many of these aren’t yet available in audiobook format. I’m pretty sure if they were I’d have been buying them as audio instead, even though I do love having a shelf full of pretty books!
Not Quite Out by Louise Willingham
Well, what can I say about this book that I haven’t already said in my review of it? I absolutely adore the relationship that develops between Will and Dan. And the friendship group that surrounds them with Lilley, Cas and Peter. This book deals with such heavy subjects, but the characters get through it all both due to their own tenacity and the support of those around them.
And that’s what this book means to me, really. I relate to Will so much. He gives so much to others, expecting them to rely on him without question. He gives and gives and gives. But he struggles so much to let go and trust those around him – not because he doesn’t trust them per se… just that he doesn’t trust himself to trust them, maybe? And oh gosh do I feel that.
Get Not Quite Out from Queer Lit
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
This is another one of those books where I don’t know how to sum up exactly how I feel about it. It isn’t even a very long book, but it really packs a punch! Within its pages there is so much representation, and we get to see a world in which the so-called monsters have all been wiped out. And yet here comes “Pet”, a fairly monstrous looking creature seeking out an actual monster who lives within the home of someone close to Jam, our protagonist.
I devoured this book in a couple of sittings and I really do recommend reading it. It leaves you with a lot to think about in terms of how we view society.
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
This book! Oh my goodness, this book. It tore at my heart so much as a Queer Christian. I wanted to wrap both Tanner and Sebastian up in a hug and tell them that it would all be okay, but I knew the reality was that they had so much heartache ahead of them. The reality is that for someone like Sebastian, despite his own understanding being that God loves him as he is, his particular Church does not. And that is heart breaking.
But even so, their love story is so incredibly beautiful, and this book is an absolute delight!
If you want to read more about what I thought about this book, I wrote a whole review of it here.
The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves
The Shield Road was a rather different read for me this year, as I don’t usually read short stories. But The Shield Road really intrigued me, as it was a collection of short stories that worked together to create one big narrative.
I really enjoyed getting to know the world that The Shield Road was set in, and the different characters within each of the stories. It did take me some time to get used to the different style of storytelling, and I’d like to go back and re-read it again at some point.
You can read my full review of The Shield Road here.
Get The Shield Road from Amazon*.
Untouched by Jayme Bean
Untouched is the kind of book that had I not known the author I might never have picked it up, because I’m a great big scaredy cat and the cover and blurb made me think it would be too scary for me! But I’m glad I did pick it up, because it became one of my favourite reads this year!
It took me a little while to get into it, and I really didn’t like David when I started reading it, but by the end he was probably my favourite character of them all. And that’s what was so great about this book – the characters all went on such a great journey. And the jungle? Well, the jungle itself became like a character too! Does that sound weird? Read my full review here to find out what I mean.
Get Untouched from Queer Lit
Cherrington Academy by Rebecca J Caffery
Cherrington Academy is the first part of a Duology, and I made the mistake of reading it when I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. Becka did warn me that it was pretty full of angst and I didn’t exactly heed her warning, so I spent a large part of the time reading it feeling rather on edge about how it was all going to end! Which should tell you how much I wanted things to work out for the characters…
That being said, I still enjoyed getting to know everyone at Cherrington Academy and I am looking forward to finding out how everything comes together in the second part (Coming Home) in 2022 when things have calmed down a little bit in my own life!! At which point I shall write a proper review for both books.
And in future I shall listen to authors when they tell me their book might be best left for when I’m not already feeling anxious!
Get The Cherrington Duology from Queer Lit
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Cinderella is Dead is one of those books that I had such high hopes for but was strangely disappointed by. I absolutely loved the premise of it, and the setting with perfect. Even the characters were good. And yet something just seemed to be missing. It felt rushed somehow. Like the story never quite reached the full depth that it could have, it simply skimmed the surface and you could feel that there was so much more underneath, you just couldn’t quite grasp it.
I don’t know how to describe it beyond that. It isn’t that it was a bad book, not at all. I enjoyed it. I just wish there had been more of it. And I guess that’s a good thing to want of a book? But still, it left me feeling disappointed all the same.
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
This Poison Heart, however, written by the same author as Cinderella is Dead, left me wanting more purely because it is the first of a Duology!! But the story itself was perfect. I loved it so much. There was much more depth, I felt, to the storytelling, and I ate it up.
I really loved the intertwining of modern day life with ancient mythology, as well as the mystical and supernatural features. It was all such a beautiful tapestry, and ended on such a massive cliff hanger, I cannot wait until the second part is released in 2022!
Looking forward to 2022
So that’s my reading count for 2021 – 22 fiction books! Will I read more in 2022? Perhaps. I certainly have a pretty long TBR (to be read) list already, including:
- Coming Home by Rebecca J Caffery
- Only Mostly Devastated* by Sophie Gonzales
- The Unhoneymooners* by Christina Lauren
- The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
- Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
- Gloria* by Katherine Shaw
- The Murder Next Door* by Sarah Bell
- Camp by L.C. Rosen
- Can’t Take That Away* by Steven Salvatore
- JUDD by J.D Toombs & Erika Schulze
- L.I.F.E* by Felyx Lawson
- Lesser Known Monsters by Rory Michaelson (already started)
- The Bone Gate by Rory Michaelson
- Bitter* by Akwaeke Emezi
- One Of Us Has To Go* by Katja Schulz
- The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
- Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
- Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- Circe* by Madeline Miller
- Labours of Stone* by E.M. Harding
- Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve (already started)
- This Wicked Fate* by Kalynn Bayron
- Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun by Jonny Garza Villa
- Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
- Salmonweird* & A Salmonweird Sleighing* by MG Mason
- Snow Falls* by Sage Donnell
And that’s just the fiction books, I want to read. All but 5 of these I already have on my shelf or loaded in either my Kindle or Audible library. I dread to think how much my TBR list will grow as I start seeing all the new releases and books people will be talking about and telling me I need to read this year! It’s going to be a busy one…
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