My Favourite Reads of 2021

As usual, Earl Grey Editing will be shutting down over the Christmas break. I’ll be on holiday from today until 3 January.

Since this is my last post of the year, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite reads of 2021. This comes with the usual caveat that these are not books that were necessarily published this year, just read by me this year.

Speculative Fiction

A Psalm for the Wild-built by Becky Chambers. Sibling Dex is a tea monk in service to the God of Small Comforts. They ride around the moon of Panga listening to the problems of others and dispensing tea and permission to take a quiet moment. They have worked very hard to be good at what they do and are recognised for their efforts. But even though they have a good life, they remain unsatisfied. On a whim, they leave the area of Panga settled by humans and strike out into the wilderness. There they encounter the first robot seen by humans in centuries.

I love Becky Chambers’s work, and also rated The Galaxy and the Ground Within very highly. But A Psalm for the Wild-built feels like it was written just for me and remains a balm to my heart. You can read my full review here.

Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina. This is a masterfully-told story about the ghost of an Indigenous girl who goes with her father to investigate a fatal fire in a small rural town in Australia. I reread this with my book club this year and was pleased to be able to share it with them. You can read my full review here.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine. Book 2 in the Teixcalaan series. Having rescued Lsel Station from the threat of the Teixcalaan Empire (at least for the time being), Ambassador Mahit Dzmare returns home to find she’s in even more hot water there. Fortunately, she’s saved (again, at least for the time being) by the wheels that she set in motion. The new Emperor has sent out a fleet to investigate Mahit’s report of a ravenous alien race not far from Lsel Station. When the fleet captain puts out a call for a diplomat and linguist to make first contact, Three Seagrass answers, collecting Mahit along the way.

This was such a satisfying sequel, just as full of political intrigue as its predecessor. The relationships and contrasts were skillfully handled. I’ve still got my fingers crossed for more in this series. You can read my full review here.

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club by Theodora Goss. This series follows the adventures of Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists as they attempt to thwart the dark legacies of their fathers. I listened to the audio version, which was superbly narrated by Kate Reading. While the women of the Athena Club are very different and don’t always see eye to eye, there remains genuine affection between them. I am always here for female friendships and I very much enjoyed the feminist take on these classic works of literature.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. A monk comes to a manor where the last empress was exiled. As they catalogue the items there, a former handmaiden tells them stories related to the items. Set in a world inspired by Imperial China, this is a fierce tale about the powerlessness and power of women.

Romance

As usual, just go ahead and assume I’d include almost everything Courtney Milan has ever written. I managed to catch up on her Brothers Sinister series, which was packed full of genius women. However, for a more recent release:

The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan. Third book in the Worth Saga. If Captain Greyson Hunter wants to bring the telegraph to China, he needs to find a way of translating Chinese characters into something like Morse Code. On a tip from a friend, he discovers just the person to do it: Amelia, a young Chinese woman brought up by an English missionary. Already widowed once, Amelia is about to be married off again by her family. As usual, Milan doesn’t pull any punches as she dives into the effect of colonialism on China during this period; she continues to write such intelligent romances. The relationship was also very sweet. Although the characters don’t necessarily spend much time together, their ways of keeping in touch were heart-warming. I also enjoyed seeing Amelia blossom into independence.

Non-fiction

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A series of essays written by a Native American ecologist about her relationship with the natural world. By turns heart-breaking and uplifting, it encouraged me to see the world in a different way. Of all the books I’ve listed, it’s this one (and A Psalm for the Wild-built) that I can see myself returning to over and over.

Floriography by Jessica Roux. A simple dictionary of the Victorian language of flowers, accompanied by beautiful botanical illustrations. It includes the meaning of each flower, the origin of that meaning and some suggestions of other flowers to pair it with based on the intended message. Accessible and beautiful.


So, those were my favourite reads of 2021. What were yours?

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