My Top 10 Books of 2021 | Raw, Radiant and Resonant Reads that shaped my year!

Hello friends!! Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas yesterday if you celebrated, if not a restful weekend as we hurtle towards the end of the year?

Despite being in denial about 2021 being over, I’ve come out of my hibernation with my favourite post yearly, on the best books of the year. I’m not hyperbolic at all in claiming that books have been my sanity-anchors throughout this hectic year, but more on that kind of reflections during my yearly wrap up! For now, it’s time to scream about these books for the umpteenth time with as much vigour as the first!!

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

10: DUNE by Frank Herbert

The biggest flex about reading Dune was feeling good about myself as I walked into the cinema and judged the film based on the book.

But in reality, I’m utterly convinced that Frank Herbert is a god, and that Dune is truly the pinnacle of science fiction, an illuminating book that indeed stands the test of time.

Dune follows Paul Atreides, the heir of the noble house, one tasked to rule over Arrakis, a desert-like planet whose main export is the spice melange. Some are intimidated by the sheer length of this saga, while others are put off by the reports of the start being slow-paced and confusing. While I can’t deny the latter, I can certainly testify that the draggy start is worth it, especially with it incremental in setting up this vibrant, detailed and complex world that would set the stage for the entire series.

Apart from the ambitious and remarkable world-building, I loved how rich the story was in terms of themes. Herbert struggles with the two ideologies of fatalism and determinism, and packages this theme of fate vs free will into a chosen one arc. There’s also an indisputable sense of scale and scope in a novel that explores not only politics and philosophy, but the history and ecology of the land as well.

A magnificent novel whose genius will awe you albeit the slow start, Dune is a classic that you must read, and certainly earns a spot on my top 10 for 2021.

Content from the blogosphere: Siya’s review of the movie

09: NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro

The fact that I knew the biggest spoiler of this book, yet cried and ravaged my eyeballs out, is truly a testament to what a masterpiece Ishiguro’s award winning novel is.

Never Let Me Go tells a tale of a bunch of kids growing up in a boarding school, but there’s more than meets the eye. It was such a breathtaking, heartbreaking and haunting narrative. As you read, you can tangibly feel the eerie atmosphere, feel such intense feelings as well as be imbued with a great sense of denial and poignance as it ends.

A simple story told in simple prose, and yet the story conceals deep resonances in the way that it explores such large and expansive themes of death, humanity and ethics with both bleakness and empathy. Definitely another fantastic science fiction novel to pick up in you’re in for something equal parts bizarre, tragic and thought-provoking.

08: PORTRAIT OF A THIEF by Grace D. Li

Ocean’s Eleven meeting The Farewell where a bunch of Chinese diaspora embark on heists to steal back Chinese art from Western museums? Portrait of a Thief is as good as it sounds, and it stole my heart from page one.

Following a group of Chinese-American college students who go on several heists to steal back Chinese art taken from the days of colonialism, Portrait of a Thief was a novel packed to the brim. Despite the sheer thrill of the heists, my favourite aspect (as always) was the thoughtful exploration of so many themes like history, diaspora, art and colonialism.

These huge, personal yet societal concepts were fleshed out with such complexity in each of our characters. Each character of the team, though stereotypically filling in roles of a heist team, had compelling character backgrounds and dynamics that were anything but surface level, each had their own relationship with China and their identity as Chinese diaspora, hence making their journey to reconnect with their roots with this heist all the more meaningful.

Truly an excellently thought-out novel, Portrait of a Thief hit the right notes as a personal, powerful and somewhat poignant commentary. An impressive debut!

Content from the blogosphere: Amanda’s review

07: JADE CITY by Fonda Lee

All that glitters is not gold, it’s green.

After 496 pages, with my brain fried, I still couldn’t decide whether or not Hilo was an idiot or a great leader. But I did know one thing for sure: Jade City is a really, really good book.

Jade City is the start of Fonda Lee’s debut in the adult fantasy genre: the Green Bone Saga, an urban fantasy set in the island of Kekon, where jade is both a sign of status and a source of power. The city, though having a central government, is under the heavy influence of clans in the region, and Jade City follows the ruling family in one of the two big clans: the No Peak clan.

This novel is anything but tame, blowing me away completely. It combines the fierce and fervent jade and territorial war between the clans to the international community clamouring for jade, as well as the intergenerational conflict within the clan. Filled to the brim with ambitious world building, brilliant political intrigue and intense fight scenes, Jade City was a smart, vibrant and gripping tale that astounded me, and earned my utmost respect and reverence.

Content from the blogosphere: Lia’s and Jayati’s recommendations based on Green Bone Saga characters // Isha’s compilation of quotes // Azu’s review

06: THE KEEPER OF NIGHT by Kylie Lee Baker

I’m pleased to say that The Keeper of Night has reaped my soul!

Following Ren, an outcast soul collector of mixed heritage, this historical fantasy transports us from the bleak and cold streets of London, to the mysterious and alluring depts of the underground in Japan, where Ren must prove herself to serve the Goddess of Death on a series of quests.

I have to say, the vibes of the book are just as immaculate as that of the cover, with the world building of the dark underground den of death being exceptionally immersive, especially with Japanese folklore and mythology effortlessly weaved into the story. And apart from the impressive atmosphere, The Keeper of Night was just as meticulous and thoughtful in portraying a compelling antihero arc amongst a fast-paced plot, with many meaningful ideas of identity, morality and fate!

Content from the blogosphere: Gauri’s review // Mesal’s QnA with the author

05: PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko made me cry not once, not twice, not thrice, but six times. And they were all full length sessions of dramatic bawling.

Following four generations of a Korean family living in Japan, Pachinko is a deeply moving, poignant and riveting saga filled with so much nuance and soul. It’s a tale of family and sacrifice, how one woman’s choices impact generations to come.

There’s a recurring theme of a woman’s role in society, especially prominent given the times this novel was set in. With regards to the historical aspect, Pachinko is exceptional as well. It entails not the actual event of Japan annexing Korea, but more so its impact: the mass destructions, mass migrations, assimilating into a new society, dealing with poverty and discrimination — immense economical and social effects of the wars on the commoners.

Pachinko also gives voice to the political nuances of the people, a backdrop against freedom, and essentially trying to live. It illuminates a tale of an ordinary family, but makes you feel so deeply for them, a deeply compelling historical fiction, definitely one to check out if you’re into historical fiction, or want just an evocative and thematic story!

Content around the blogosphere: Sarah’s review

04: THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS by Chloe Gong

This is the book that rekindled my faith in enemies to lovers.

But also was the one that crushed it because the sequel was a disappointment, but eh we’re here to talk about how fantastic book one of the These Violent Delights duopoly was, regardless of how the finale fared!!

A Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai with a monster on the rise, These Violent Delights was as unique and gripping as it sounds. An intricate friends to enemies to lovers to enemies to lovers to… dynamic amidst two compelling stars from rival gangs, characterised by their responses to the ongoing violence and power play between the gangs, as well as the history fuelling the blood feud, this historical fantasy was dark and delicious.

It captured 1920s Shanghai, glittering and gritty, perfectly, and through both unfiltered ire and nuanced commentary, addressed Western imperialism, which coupled with the Chinese culture not just in setting but in values, resonated deeply with me!

Truly one worthy of all the hype its been getting (though I can’t say the same for the sequel unfortunately), These Violent Delights is one you have to pick up or miss out big time!

Content from the blogosphere:  Ahaana’s review // Jan’s reviewSam’s review // Sanah’s review

03: THE ONES WE’RE MEANT TO FIND by Joan He

A moving and melancholic novel, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is evidence that science fiction has a heart.

TOWMTF was one of my most anticipated releases for the year and it was absolutely brilliant. It’s a tale of two sisters, polar opposites, but with an undeniable bond, stuck in a climate-challenged world.

Amidst the dual narrative with a raging plot (ugh my heart still pitter patters from that twistTM), Joan He brings out themes of climate change, technology and thought-provokingly examines the very prospect of humanity in such a grandiose, not in the slightest pretentious manner. It was done so beautifully, with so much grace and sensitivity, I can’t recommend this novel enough!

Content from the blogosphere: Sai’s review // Rania’s review // Saima’s review // (albeit differing opinions) Rachel’s review // Kaya’s review

02: DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING by Madeline Thien

If beauty had a physical form, this novel would be it.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing follows a group of musicians and their descendants through the cultural revolution, and to the Tiananmen Square protests. It had a dual timeline linked with a single object, typical of its genre, but A heartbreaking, profound yet profound intergenerational saga, this historical novel illuminates history and the building of a nation.

It explores how war and trauma irrevocably shapes individuals and generations to come. love, sacrifice, music, remembrance are just the tip of the iceberg in this novel. Furthermore, it offers a poignant yet compassionate look into the emotional turmoil of the late 20th century of China.

A stunning epic that commands authority the same way that it inspires empathy (which may I add, is insanely underrated!!), Do Not Say We Have Nothing will be haunting me for years to come.

01: THE POPPY WAR trilogy by R.F. Kuang

Hello! I’m Cherelle, a part-time student and a full-time Poppy War propaganda machine!

To reiterate for the umpteenth time, I love this historical fantasy series so much that I’ve honestly made it my entire personality, the moment I put down The Burning God and calmed myself down (it was no easy task, trust me), with unflinching certainty, I knew that this series would be my favourite for 2021, and probably many years to come.

So let’s talk about it again! (whilst I procrastinate writing a full length review, I promise it’s coming… one day)

The Poppy War follows Rin, a war-orphan from the South, through sheer grit and determination, makes it into Sinegard, the nation’s most prestigious military academy, where she discovers a power within herself, as the third Poppy War is dawns.

Everything about this series is sheer brilliance. Rin is one of the most complex antiheroes I’ve read (actually mirrored with the father of Communism in China: Mao Zedong), she’s one built on a foundation of emotional turmoil, history and class structure, and her journey with power and the gods is gritty but a sight to behold.

This series is not for the faint of heart, it’s a harsh, unflinching portrayal of war, neither romanticised nor sensationalised. Violence, trauma, power, corruption – R.F. Kuang gave us the full brunt of these, and yet there was a certain sensitivity laced through the series, with the trilogy spanning China’s “Century of Humiliation”. It’s a meaningful exploration of this century that shaped China through a fantastical lens filled with lore, and coupled with the deep cultural influences, allowed this series to be both a fierce look at reality, as well as one of resonance for me.

TL;DR: READ THE POPPY WAR OR DIE.

Content in the blogosphere: Tiffany’s informative post on the history and culture // Diya’s review // Lia’s review

And we’re done! I’m incredibly grateful for the presence of these books in my life, and also for all my friends in the blogosphere and on bookstagram pushing me to read them. All of these books resonated with me deeply and gave me a reprieve from the world for a few hours, definitely worth reading and supporting these amazing authors!

I’ve seen some other of my blogger friends post their top reads for the year as well, thought I’d link them here because their taste in books are SO GOOD: Rachel // Phoenix // Madeline

On another note, I’m back (touch wood eheh)! Tell me how you’ve all been doing alright! Apologies for my month-and-a-half long absence, I’ve been getting end of the year blues, so I’m hopeful for the new year, as I’m trying to avoid the meme that says 2022 is pronounced “2020 too” haha.

https://aboltoutofthebook.files.wordpress.com/2021/05/lets-talk-a-bolt-out-of-the-book.png?w=760

What are some of your top books of 2021? Have you read any of these books? What’s a book you’re eager to read in 2022?

32 thoughts on “My Top 10 Books of 2021 | Raw, Radiant and Resonant Reads that shaped my year!

  1. Cherelle it’s good to see you back!! AHHH YES we have TVD common on both our lists (and same rank too! what sorcery is this)
    Omg I’m so happy to see you loved Portrait of a thief, ii have an arc of it and I’m so pumped that I’ll get to read it very very soon; hopefully I’ll love it too 🤞

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  2. Ahh this list is soo amazing, Cherelle! Loved the books and omgg thanks for the movie review mention, it means a lot!!
    Though, I haven’t read Pachinko yet, I am very excited for it’s drama adaption to releasee💃🏻
    ‘These Violent Delights’ and ‘The One We’re Meant To Find’ is in my TBR since it started getting so much recognition in the blogosphere and honestly, I can’t wait to read them!!😩
    Great post!! Loved reading it!!❤

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  3. I totally forgot that you thought that Our Violent Ends was a disappointment until I read this post and now I’m scared because I’m reading it right now!!! I’m only about 70 pages in and I think it’s great so far, but I also think that Lord Montagov scheduling a meeting with Lord Cai and Juliette and asking Juliette and Roma to work together was a kind of cheap way to get them back in the same proximity haha. We’ll see what I think of it when I’m done! Thanks for linking to my post, and I’ll definitely have to check out some of the other books you mentioned here!

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  4. i’ve only read these violent delights out of this list, but all of these books are on my tbr, and i’m glad you enjoyed all of them! i haven’t seen the dune movie yet, or read the book, but it looks pretty grand i must say! i’m a bit hesitant to read the poppy war, as i’ve heard it’s a lot brutal haha.
    happy reading ❤

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  5. amazing list, cherelle!! sadly, i have not read any of these books but i’m so happy to hear you enjoyed so many of your reads this year. pachinko has been eyeing me from my shelves for a while now, so i will for sure be picking it up soon 💙 the poppy war is also a trilogy i know i have to get to but it’s so intimidating haha. great to see you back!

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  6. Such great picks!! I’m so glad you liked Dune and These Violent Delights (LOL DEFINITELY A FLEX I READ DUNE ABOUT A YEAR BEFORE THE MOVIE AND I JUST HAD THAT MOMENT OF “YES I KNOW THINGS” SKDJHFSF) The Ones We’re Meant to Find was incredible!
    Thanks for the shoutout!!

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  7. oh my gosh it’s so good to see you back, hope you’re doing well!! i need to read so many of these books (jade city and the poppy war are at the top of my tbr if i ever get to courage to dive into adult fantasy LOL). thank you for leaving a shoutout to my review, and i can’t wait to read everyone else’s!💜

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  8. Lovely post! Glad you liked These Violent Delights!! It’s a fantastic book, agreed :))
    Guess I really do need to read Poppy War now 👀😂 it’s all I’m seeing in the bookish community right now haha.
    Potrait of a Thief and Never Let Me Go are on my tbr, but you’ve convinced me to read them asap!
    The Dune series sounds intriguing!

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  9. I LOVED READING THIS AND I WILL SOON PUT ALL OF THEM IN MY TBR READY TO BE COMPLETED BY 2022!! I missed reading your posts cherelle and I hope that one day, I can continue reading the Poppy War💓

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  10. Ahhh so many of my faves are on this list!! I love The Poppy War series, Jade City is amazing, These Violent Delights is brilliant, The Ones We’re Meant To Find too! And a lot of the others are ones are on my tbr so I hope I love them as much as you did!

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  11. Cherelle, I get how you might want to return from your hiatus with a bang, but AHHH, this post is a masterpiece! The way you’ve described all of these books, it makes me want to drop everything else and go read them haha. Ignore me as I silently proceed instead to save this post so that I can read all of these in 2022. I am so excited to read the poppy wars but also scared, and I shall blame whatever this book does to me on you, okay?
    It’s so good to see you back Cherelle! Hope 2022 is amazing for you!

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  12. So good to have you back here, Cherelle. I’ve only read a few here but can agree with you that they were truly amazing. Lol… If I don’t read TPW after your threats, I don’t deserve to read anymore. 😂 I’m literally waiting for the new year to start to read it.
    P.S. I’m so delighted to see my post here along with so many fabulous bloggers. Thanks for the mention🤗

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  13. This list intimidates me with how much tears you shed 😭 I cried in TPW and TDR, which is why I’m putting off TBG since I know it will be a full blown cry session. Same with Pachinko & Never Let Me Go- I know they have a lot of rave reviews but I’m also scared since they’re known as tearjerkers 😭

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