My Top 10 Books of 2021

As you can see I have been pushing these last two weeks to squeeze in a few more book reviews at the end of the year and make a final crunch of progress on my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge, but I am going to call it quits for the year at 44 books. I am still pretty pleased with myself. That is more than last year, which I believe was only 30. My goal had been 50, but that will just be next year’s target.  

For my last blog post of the year I will round up my top 10 favorites of those 44. I didn’t write reviews for all 44, as I go through phases of review fatigue where I need breaks from writing them. But this year I tried to see reviews as a sort of reading log, taking notes to remember what I read, and I kept them short and concise. That has helped me be more consistent with writing them. 

The first six months of 2021 I was trying to figure out a focus for this blog so I didn’t do a whole lot of book reviews. But the last six months of the year, I really got into keeping up with them. I find it’s an easy source of fresh blog content and if people like your taste in books, they’ll engage with you more. Book lovers are a wonderful community of folks from all walks of life. Without further ado…

My top 10 of 2021: 

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I’m currently reading Jade Legacy so expect that review in January. But Jade City is the start of the Green Bone Saga and it is simply fantastic. Asian-inspired epic fantasy with martial arts action and jade gemstones that give warriors wearing them special powers. Read my review here

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Space opera about the arrival of Ambassador Mahit Dzmare at the Teixcalaanli Empire to investigate the murder of her predecessor. I just love fantasy inspired by non Western cultures and there were some really great examples of that published the last few years. Read my review here

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

A wonderful literary epic set in China of the romantic and yet complicated early Communist past told in alternating points of view. 

All About the Benjamins by Zev Good

You rarely read self-published literary contemporary character studies anymore; it’s all vampire romances and cozy mysteries. So this was a refreshing change of pace about a family man who comes out as gay later in life. Read my review here

The Orchid and The Lion by Gabriel Hargrave

The best self-published book that was released in 2021 that I read all year. A wonderful erotic space opera about a femme gay sex worker and his trans man partner set against the backdrop of political intrigue. Read my review here.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

A wonderful, literary novella with more Asian-inspired fantasy. Read my Goodreads review here

Odessa by Jonathan Hill

A wonderful graphic novel epic following a family’s journey through a dystopian setting. Read my review here

Lonely Receiver by Zac Thompson

A graphic novel about love and what it means to be human or robot. Read my review here. 

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Finally got around to reading this grimdark classic. It’s an excellent study of a morally grey character, too. Read my review here

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (Vish Puri, #3) by Tarquin Hall

Lovely escapism in the form of a cozy mystery set in India following the travails of Indian PI Vish Puri. I definitely plan to read more of this series in 2022.

Looking ahead at next year’s reading goals

Thank you for reading my blog and following my reviews this year! Reading goals for next year include:

  • Read 50 books (1 book a week)
  • Be more consistent with posting reviews and keep them short and concise
  • Read more contemporary literary fiction (i.e. more Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, etc.). I get too fixated on science fiction and fantasy sometimes, immersed in the genres for my own writing and what I naturally gravitate to for pleasure reading, that I forget to expand my intellectual horizons.
  • Read more self-published authors; they always get a lot more engagement than traditionally published books do
  • Mix up my genres. I would like to keep reading epic fantasy trilogies but also historical fiction, mysteries and nonfiction.

Until next year, friends in literature! Thanks for coming along with me for the second year of this humble little blogging adventure of mine. More to come.

Find me on: Patreon | Ko-fi | Newsletter | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Book Review: “A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

“A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine, last year’s Hugo winner, is well worth its regard. It is the first book of the Teixcalalaan series, a cyberpunk and space opera universe inspired by many cultures, including the Byzantines, the Romans and the Aztecs. The second book comes out in a few months. The book follows the appointment of a new Ambassador from Lsel Station, Mahit Dzmare, to the Teixcalaanli Empire. She carries an imago-machine in her head, a technology that enables Stationers like Mahit to store the memories and consciousness of others in their brains. They don’t exactly become two people, but rather they are their own person, with another’s skills and memories enhancing their own. This kind of biohacking is considered immoral by the Teixcalaani Empire, but it is used to preserve institutional memory on Lsel from one generation to the next with the likes of pilots and miners. 

Mahit arrives in a particularly dangerous political situation in Teixcalaanli, when the emperor faces a succession crisis. Her predecessor, Yskander, was murdered, but he is hiding political secrets of his own. It is his imago-machine that Mahit has in her head, but it is 15 years out of date, and she suspects it is sabotaged. 

This book was an enjoyable, fast-paced ride dense with political intrigue, reminiscent of The Expanse. I was expecting more of a murder mystery but it soon became apparent that Mahit was less of an active protagonist investigating a murder and more reacting to events that unfolded. For example, when she investigates the body of her predecessor, she does not do an autopsy or look for a cause of death, but rather, her assistant asks her questions about the imago-machine. I saw it as more of a political thriller and an examination of the complicated darkness of colonialism. I seem to be reading a lot of books lately with the word “empire” in the title – colonialism is a trendy theme of 2019-2020 it seems. 

I found the political games in the story refreshing; it all fit neatly together like a puzzle based on scraps of verse and coded messages. But political machinations usually lose me if the characters are not strong enough, and I immediately fell in love with the characters in this book, Mahit and her assistant Three Seagrass in particular. Their sexual tension throughout the book and romantic subplot was intoxicating. I was immediately drawn to Mahit, with her naive nerd-like devotion to Teixcalaani culture, a society built on poetry, literature and the arts; but even she soon succumbs to bitterness, the brutal reality of empire-building settling on her shoulders, as both the Teixcalaani Empire and Lsel Station face an even greater alien threat than the wars that humans fight among themselves. 

I also saw the city on Teixcalaan as a character in itself. This worldbuilding was stunning, and welcome to dive into another popular book not inspired by white Western Europe. The city itself was run by an algorithm, and an intriguing exploration of future sustainable city design. The first book only touched the surface of the implications of the city’s omniscient AI. 

This is speculative fiction at its finest. A fun experience, great characters, and an elaborate world with interesting politics. Recommend strongly. 

This review also on my Goodreads page. I’m looking for more friends and followers on Goodreads, by the way.