Haters will say this post is late but I know y’all love me and everyone doesn’t have time perception anymore so this post is definitely not late thank you very much. While I’m still working on my wrap-up post for the whole year of 2021 (spoiler: there will be a lot of graphs and probably a lot of screaming as well), I will first be rounding up my favorite reads of the year!
Picking my favorite reads is something that I always look forward to every year. This time, it was extra challenging since I read over 300 books in 2021, making it my best reading year of all time. I eventually chose 20+ titles as my favorite reads, which I originally wanted to list in just one post, but I changed my mind at the last minute. This post will only highlight the best backlist titles I read in 2021, while the second part will focus on the best 2021 releases I read last year. I figured that this was the best path to take because 1) I don’t want to publish a long post that might bore everyone, and 2) I really love all these books and I want to highlight each one the best way I can.
So yes, you will know my favorite backlist titles now. Watch out for the second part that I will post soon. I am very excited to share my favorite reads of 2021 with everyone so I will not be delaying this any longer.
Let’s get started!
✨ Read related post: THE BEST BOOKS OF 2020 (THESE BOOKS DESTROYED ME)
Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú) by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù
The books in this post are not arranged in a particular order, but there is no doubt that TGCF is my best read of 2021. Everybody yearns for the feeling of finding a book that will literally upend their life in the possible best way, and TGCF gave that to me and more. This novel that follows an unfortunate god and his most faithful believer has taken over my life and I have no plans to let it go any time soon. It has over two thousand pages, but not once did I feel bored while reading it. On the contrary, I would read a million more words of this book and never tire of it for a single moment.
There are so many things that I love about TGCF: its chaotic yet lovable characters, the laugh-out-loud witty writing, the hard-hitting exploration of trauma, the mystery subplots, the excellent foreshadowing, the plot twists, the angst, and of course, the yearning. My gods the yearning. Nothing hits harder like 800 years of pining for a beloved who has sacrificed everything for the world and whom you’ve sacrificed everything for. Heaven Official’s Blessing speaks of a tale of pain, healing, and love. I read the entire novel through a fan translation, but the first volume of the official English translation came out recently so I highly recommend you check that if you’re curious about the story. There are still so many things that I want to say about TGCF but I don’t want this post to be overly long so I’m just going to cut it short here. PLEASE BUY THE OFFICIAL TRANSLATION OF THE NOVEL TO SUPPORT THE AUTHOR!
“Only after having met you did I rediscover that it’s such a simple thing to be happy.”
- from Heaven Official’s Blessing by 墨香铜
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
If I had one word to describe this graphic novel, it would be transcendent. Both the story and the art took my breath away. This is the kind of book that I will go back to because it offers tenderness and comfort while also discussing important subjects like generational trauma and queerness. The Magic Fish will take you on an emotional ride packed full of fairytale twists and reflections on the healing power of storytelling. It is no surprise that this book is now one of my most favorite reads of all time.
“Joy is a precious thing. And precious things are few. So we learn to hold on to them.”
- from The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
I still vividly remember listening to this audiobook at 3x speed while I was cleaning my bookshelves, marveling at the magnetic storytelling and the characters’ charms. It was one of the best reading experiences I have ever had. The way this book is both adorable and haunting is very fascinating to me. Aside from its soft and charming parts, this book also has an underlying bleakness to it, with its exploration of bullying, jealousy, and grief. This is a quick read that will stay with you for a long time.
“The most beautiful blooms come from the darkest soil.”
- from The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
✨ Read related post: AUDIOBOOKS YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFE
The Kyoshi Duology by F.C. Yee
This duology is now an all-time favorite because it gave me a feeling of unabashed enthusiasm and that tingling feeling that made me go “yes this is why I love reading.” Everything about this duology is so well done. Considering that it is part of a bigger canon, it is even more admirable that F.C. Yee managed to write something that fit so seamlessly into an already-established fictional world. I just…love this duology so much it’s hard to grasp words that will explain how I feel. Just read it and be consumed by this epic story of duty, love, and friendship.
“With their eyes on each other, it was easy to be brave. Maybe that’s the only way we get through this, Kyoshi thought. Just never look away.”
- from The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C Yee
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
A Wish in the Dark possesses everything that I love in a middle grade book: it’s whimsical, full of heart, boasts great character arcs, and imparts important lessons to its readers. This is the kind of book that will ignite a spark within a person, leaving a smile on their faces and a warm feeling in their chest upon reading its conclusion. I’ve heard more than one person describe this book as perfect and I wholeheartedly agree with that.
“You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.”
- from A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
The Vanished Birds by Jason Jimenez
This is an imaginative and evocative space opera that took me by surprise in a very good way. It also destroyed me and made me sit in quiet contemplation after reading it because apparently I am incapable of doing anything at the height of pain. I can see why this book may be a hit or a miss depending on the person, but I found it to be a creative genius that is both beautiful and tragic. The Vanished Birds is a tale that spans a millennium across the vast space, telling a story of greed, found family, and regret over loves found and ultimately lost.
“The best-case scenario of a well-spent life was the slow and steady unraveling of the heart’s knot.”
- from The Vanished Birds by Jason Jimenez
Lovely War by Julie Berry
Clearly, “favorite reads” is just code for “books that absolutely annihilated me” because this is yet another book on this list that tore my heart out of my chest. Lovely War spectacularly weaves two love stories set in World War I. Of course, I absolutely love that this story is narrated by Greek gods who added an extra dramatic flair and dimension to an already compelling story. This book made me cry so of course I highly recommend it.
“Kisses by the billions happen every day, even in a lonely world like ours. But this is a kiss for the ages.”
- from Lovely War by Julie Berry
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
Oh look another book that brought tears to my eyes! I previously said that I always look for “pinagtagpo ngunit hindi tinadhana” (a Tagalog phrase that roughly means “meant to meet but not meant to be”) vibes in books and The Stationery Shop precisely gave those angsty feels to me. It is about a whirlwind romance that was painfully lost and found again after sixty years. And yes, it’s just as painful as it sounds. This book has the makings of a timeless masterpiece.
“The past was always there, lurking in the corners, winking at you when you thought you’d moved on, hanging on to your organs from the inside.”
- from The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
Clear and Muddy Loss of Love by 请君莫笑
2021 was a year where I read a lot of fan translated Chinese novels and this is one that really impressed me. This huge chunk of a book with almost 4000 pages follows a Prince (who is actually a woman) who had an arranged marriage with the daughter of the Emperor who murdered her entire clan. Clear and Muddy Loss of Love is an epic story that spans decades and is full of elaborate political schemes that made my brain go brrrr. I know that the page count is a bit daunting but I must say it is worth the read if you are a fan of slow-burn, well-crafted stories. There’s also a lot of angst. Just putting it out there.
“I do not hope to receive your forgiveness, but I will not let up here either. If what I owe you can’t be paid back in life, I’ll pay it back in the afterlife.”
- from Clear and Muddy Loss of Love by 请君莫笑
Big Bad Wolf series by Charlie Adhara
If you told me before that I would love a series about werewolves in the year of our Lord 2021, I would not have believed you. But alas, here we are. I blame Charlie Adhara’s brilliant writing for this because I do love this werewolf series with all my heart. The Big Bad Wolf series is made up of five mystery romance books. The mysteries in all five books are very well-plotted that I found it difficult to guess the perpetrators, making the reveals at the end quite satisfying. Aside from the mystery, I also adored the romance in this series so much. In more ways than one, this series offers a careful exploration of intimacy, which was such a delight to read. Take it from me, you will definitely enjoy reading this series whether you’re a werewolf enjoyer or not.
“What stage of love was it when another person became a habit? How quickly had the mere background hum of another person’s life become such an essential fixture of the house that its absence felt like a robbery?”
- from Cry Wolf by Charlie Adhara
Those are all of my favorite books from the backlist! It was difficult to choose just one quote to highlight for every book and it was also hard to condense my bursting admiration for TGCF in just two paragraphs, but hey I did it!! I highly recommend all the books in this list but be careful because they will make you cry.
Please watch out for the second part of this post to know my favorite 2021 releases. Stay tuned for my 2021 recap too. And remember: I am not posting these things late. Everyone’s just earlier than me hehe ✌️