Welcome to the second part of my favorite 2021 reads roundup! It did not take me six months to publish another post who am I even right now. I just know that it’s so nice to have this blogging jazz back 🎉
Last year, I read more than 60 new releases (a proud moment for me!) thanks to audiobooks and ARCs. In this post, I will be highlighting 12 of the best 2021 releases I read. Also, because I read a lot of great books last year, I will also be listing some honorable mentions as a treat.
Without further ado, here are my favorite releases of 2021!
BEST 2021 RELEASES
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
No, you don’t understand. I really go feral whenever I think about this book. There’s something about Shelley Parker-Chan’s prose that cuts you like a knife to the chest, mercilessly leaving you hurting and bleeding without respite. This is a book that unfurls slowly in a way that is absolutely breathtaking. I was also floored by how well-written all the characters were. Every one of them is wretched in one way or another, and yet I love them still. She Who Became the Sun is a masterful work that breathes new life into history with the help of fantasy elements and meticulous plotting. It is yearning in the form of a book. It is a tragic tale of tragic heroes. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read.
“The greater the desire, the greater the suffering, and now she desired greatness itself.”
- from She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
✨ Read related post: FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2021: PART 1 || BEST FROM THE BACKLIST
How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Owing up to its enchanting title, reading this book was nothing short of magical. More than anything, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a brilliant YA contemporary about self-love. In this book, we get to see Moon grapple with insecurities about her body, her sexuality, and her worth. It also discusses grief, religion, and parental abuse in a meaningful manner. I truly cannot recommend this book enough. I love the poetic writing so much, the romance is fantastic, and the book as a whole offers a lot of food for thought. There’s so much magic to be found in these pages and I hope you can experience it too.
“The intensity in me shakes the earth. I inhale the whole universe and a new one is breathed out again. Inhale, exhale. Creation, destruction, creation again.”
- from How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book but it certainly wasn’t alien donut ladies, immortality deals with the devil, and cursed violins. I should really start reading book synopses before reading, but I love all the surprises I get from diving into books without knowing anything about them. And boy, was I surprised by this. Light from Uncommon Stars is a heady mix of sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, and romance elements, making it a unique and captivating book all around. I may not have understood all the music jargon here, but this book spoke directly to my soul so it didn’t really matter. This is a story about music, identity, family, and healing. This raw and heartwarming book is something that you should definitely check out.
“Think of a piece of music. Is it not a miracle that each time the notes are played, the music is reborn?”
- from Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
This book? Enchanting. Groundbreaking. It is also incredibly whimsical and gave me a taste of magic at the tip of my tongue while I was reading it. With its nonlinear storyline, I was intensely gripped by this intriguing and mysterious tale that revolves around a family blessed by curious gifts. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina intertwines the past and the present, weaving an evocative tale of family drama, secrets, broken promises, and magic. Reading this felt like I was assembling a complicated puzzle and then found a pot of gold at the end of it. Aside from the brilliant plotting, I also highly admire the beautiful prose. I can’t recommend this book enough. Also, snag the audiobook if you have the chance because it is phenomenal.
“When she’d met Orquídea Montoya, she saw a whisper of a girl who wanted to become a scream.”
- from The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Without a doubt, this is one of the most chaotic books I have ever read but I loved every second of it. Dial A for Aunties mixes murder, romance, and family drama into one hilarious book with a lot of heart. I had the time of my life listening to the audiobook and laughed a lot with reckless abandon. This is a vibrant book that will stress you out but will also keep you on your toes. It captures the chaotic dynamics of a tight-knit Asian family, and I love how every character has their own shining personality. The pacing of the story is also excellent, making it a book you won’t be able to put down until you have consumed every little bit of it. If you want to feel serotonin and adrenaline rush through your body, pick this book up.
“You’re not a mess. You just kill by accident only. Bad luck. Can happen to anyone.”
- from Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
Despite growing up with tons of mystery books, I think this was the first cozy mystery book I have ever read and it has convinced me to read more from the subgenre. This book is far from perfect (I must admit that I’m a lil biased towards it because I find a lot of pleasure seeing my own culture prioritized on page) but I still immensely enjoyed reading it. Arsenic and Adobo excellently blends murder mystery, family shenanigans, and food. I especially loved how it pays homage to Filipino food and our love for eating. I’m excited to read the next book and I’m hoping to see more romance! A little bit of warning: do not read this book when you’re hungry.
“In typical Filipino fashion, my aunt expressed her love not through words of encouragement or affectionate embraces, but through food.”
- from Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva
This book felt like home. I often feel this when I read books by Filipino authors, but this one made me recall happy days from my childhood: walking home from school with my sister, buying iced candy from the neighbors, and having seaside outings with the family. Aside from the nostalgia, Sugar and Spite was a delight to read because of its characters. Reading about children being messy, having mistakes, seeking forgiveness, and eventually finding solace in friendship really warmed my heart. If you’re looking for a middle-grade book you can curl up with on a comfy day, this one is perfect.
“Your being brown doesn’t make you ugly. Mom always says we’re beautiful. We just have this hang-up about white being pretty because it’s what our Spanish and American colonizers wanted us to think.”
- from Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
This was yet another book that I picked up on a whim without reading its synopsis, and I was floored by all the things that happened here. It’s so intense that my heart almost jumped out of my chest multiple times while reading. I can’t even put into words how mind-blowing this book was. The Darkness Outside Us is a genius (and very queer!) sci-fi book that will take you on an outer space ride like never before. There are secrets upon secrets buried in its pages and there’s also a bittersweet love story that will destroy you not just once but multiple times. Read it and you will not be disappointed.
“Intimacy is the only shield against insanity. Intimacy, not knowledge. Intimacy, not power.”
- from The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales
I had so much fun reading this and I adore it to bits! I usually just listen to audiobooks when I’m doing chores but this one really had me sitting down to binge it way after all my chores were finished because I couldn’t get enough of it. This book is funny, sharp, and refreshing. It has its share of drama as well, which kept me invested from the first page until the last. Perfect on Paper follows a bisexual girl who gives relationship advice to those in need, but her love life itself is a mess because her best friend (whom she is in love with) is in love with somebody else. Of course, this book is more than just its chaotic premise because it gives meaningful commentary on relationships both romantic and platonic, internalized biphobia, and identity. Perfect on Paper revived my love for YA contemporary books and I hope it gives you that similar feeling too.
“For the first time, the very very first time, I really believed them. That my relationship status did not change me. And that even if other people didn’t agree, every single person in this room had my back without hesitation.”
- from Clear and Muddy Loss of Love by 请君莫笑
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia*
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a phenomenal writer and this book is further proof of that. Set in a world of the elite where gossip is abundant and expectations are high, SMG weaves a slow-burn, romantic story full of yearning and drama. I acknowledge that this book might not be for everyone because of its slow pacing, but it worked for me just fine. I loved the atmospheric writing, the measured progression of the story, and the characters’ relationships. This is a book that will make you feel things. It’s no surprise that I ended up loving it.
“A sea roared inside her and made demands, but she waded it, she bobbed up, took a breath, and opened her eyes to the cold winter morning. Then she rose because the day was there, the world was there, and she wanted to be part of it.”
- from The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
*This book was originally published in 2017, but I put it on this list because it got reprinted last year.
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
I must admit that it took me a while to warm up to this book, but I eventually found the slow-burn writing to be hauntingly brilliant. This is another book that I loved for its immaculate spooky vibes and unapologetically flawed characters. Summer Sons is a mix of dark academia, Gothic horror, and mystery. It explores grief, loss, and denial in an eviscerating way that seeps through the bones. I loved the prose, the messy codependent queer characters, and the repressed yearning. This book is not without its flaws, but it is a great debut nonetheless. I am excited to read more from Lee Mandelo.
“For fuck’s sake, Andrew. Is there anything in this scenario that feels heterosexual or well-adjusted to you?”
- from Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
I have not been enjoying YA fantasy recently as much as I used to, but this book definitely sparked my enthusiasm for the genre once again. The Grimrose Girls appealed to my love for murder mysteries and dark fairytale retellings. I enjoyed the slow unraveling of the mystery and the deliberate introduction of the fantasy elements. Most of all, I really loved the characters. Despite the multiple POVs, I was able to follow the story well enough and the POV switches were written excellently. All the characters had equal time to shine and every single one of them felt so real. I’m not much of a series person anymore, but I am so excited to read the sequel to this one!
“We’re not going to save just one girl. We are going to save them all.”
- from The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
2021 really had a lot of amazing releases and I’m so grateful that I was able to read many of them (gotta thank audiobooks for that they are my life). I must say that choosing the books on this list was harder than choosing my backlist favorites. There are just a lot of authors I want to support but I am a potato with not enough brain cells and time to talk about them all. Below are some honorable mentions that I really enjoyed reading as well:
Okay, that’s it for this post! Thanks for tolerating all that rambling I love y’all so much. My 2021 wrap-up is coming soon and I’m so excited to share it because there will be stats and graphs. So much fun stuff! (The only hitch is that I have not written a single word of that post yet but a girl has to stay optimistic ahaha). I hope everyone is reading a good book right now. See you all again soon.