It's that time of year again for my annual list of favorite books from the Philbrick Hall Fiction Department at Parkway Central Library!
Welcome to the tenth anniversary of this yearly list and the second year of pandemic reading! This year my reading slowed down even more—with only 220 books read. I blame a much-increased amount of time spent watching K-Dramas (and Japanese and Thai dramas as well). My brain seems to think that reading subtitles counts as reading books and lumps book reading and subtitled television watching into the same category. Brains are weird.
Nonetheless, I read a LOT of really good books and am excited to share them with you here. All of these titles are available in catalog in print, and most are available digitally via Overdrive as well. As a special 10th Anniversary bonus, I have created video book talks for quite a few of the books on the list. Enjoy!
In no particular order, here are my favorite fiction books of 2021:
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt
Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he wakes up in a different reality—and he can never go back to one he's already been to. This book feels partly like an homage to golden age SF. It's a fun fast-paced read as Zax realizes that someone is chasing him across realities.
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Eva and Shane are bona fide stars of the Black literati scene, but no one suspects that they have a romantic past from 20 years ago. Over the course of seven days, they must untangle who they are to each other and move on with their lives... or not.
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood
Anvar and his family are from Pakistan and Safwa is from Iraq. This book followed their journeys from the 1990s through to 2016 as they make their way to San Francisco following two very different paths.
Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
In an alternate world steampunk version of 1912 Cairo, Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. When someone murders an entire Secret Brotherhood, Fatwa is called on to the case.
Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters
When all-work-and-no-play Cade inherits a sex toy shop, she also inherits the store's flighty co-owner, Selena. Thrown together to make the store a success, they struggle to prevent their reluctant professional relationship from igniting into something more.
The Apocalypse Seven by Gene Doucette
Seven random strangers wake up to find Boston is completely deserted. Once they find each other, they realize that the situation is stranger than they realize—they've all slept through the apocalypse!
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
When cynical August moves to New York City, she didn't expect to find family in the all-night pancake diner or with her many roommates. And she really didn't expect her subway crush to be a girl stuck in time—literally.
The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
Thara Celehar is a Witness for the Dead, a combination medium and investigator. In this standalone sequel to The Goblin Emperor, Celehar has been assigned to a new city and finds himself entangled in the mystery of the death of an opera star.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Grace is a by-the-book military brat who has finally fulfilled her dream of getting a Ph.D. when life takes an unexpected turn. When she wakes up married in Las Vegas, her absolutes start to crumble as she begins to learn what she really wants in life.
Strange Love by Ann Aguirre
This is an adorable romance where the cinnamon role hero happens to be a scary-looking, bug-like alien who accidentally abducts an Earth woman and her dog. The unlikely duo decides to make a go of it and hilarity (and tenderness) ensue. Easily the weirdest romance I read all year and still one of the best.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Not only is Jessamyn being forced to move back to Malaysia with her family, but she's also started hearing the voice of her dead grandmother in her head. As a reluctant medium, Jessamyn gets drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and dark family secrets.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
It's Baltimore in the 1970s and teenage Mary Jane gets a job as a summer nanny in a family that isn't as "respectable" as her parents believe. One rock star, one movie star, and a summer that will change how Mary Jane sees the world forever.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Set in the near future, Fatima is visited by death and is forever changed. With the power to kill with just a thought, she wanders the land in search of something that is lost. This is a superhero origin story and I am excited to read more.
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Dev is a producer on a dating reality show charged with crafting the perfect romance, but when the new bachelor is an unmitigated disaster in front of the cameras, their chemistry behind the scenes is hotter than with any of the contestants. Can there be a perfect Hollywood Ending with the cameras rolling?
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
When her brother dies, Zhu takes on his identity and his prophecy of greatness as she struggles to survive.
For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes
April French has never been the woman that men stay with. As a trans woman, she has always been a detour, never the destination. Then Dennis walks into her club and seems to want more...
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
This is one long scream of female rage from beginning to end. In a world of rigid gender roles and giant mecha warriors, Wu Zeitan sets out on a quest for revenge and ends up plotting to take on the entire world.
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Evenly split between Fantasy and Science Fiction, this book is about a violinist's Faustian bargain, alien refugees who run a donut shop, and a young trans girl who gets caught up in it all.
Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell
Interstellar politics and intrigue meet epic love story in this novel about two men who are thrown together in an arranged marriage to save an interplanetary empire.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
When bored teenager Aleisha gets a job in the local library, her life intersects with widower Mukesh, who is anxious to find a way to reach out to his young granddaughter. Through one chance encounter, Aleisha and Mukesh find an unlikely friendship.
Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
Toy-store employee Teddy is floating through life, but her one pleasure is watching Everett St. James on the children’s show he hosts. When she impulsively sends him a fan letter, the two connect in ways they never thought possible. If you ever wondered if Mr. Rogers would make a good romance hero, this book is for you.
Paladin's Strength by T. Kingfisher
A paladin of a dead god and a secretive warrior nun team up to help with each other’s quests. Throw in a love story, a mysterious serial killer mystery, and some gladiatorial pits, and this is a book full of grown-up folks who are exceptionally good at what they do. It’s the second book in a series but can be read as a standalone (but you’ll want to go back and read everything Kingfisher has written after reading this).
The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller
When a Prima Ballerina in 19th Century Paris is reunited with her first love, the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her (quite literally). With everything she has built in danger of crumbling, can Amelie trust Benedict to support her?
Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers
A thoughtful road trip novella set in a utopia where robots achieved sentience and walked off into the forest centuries ago. For the first time in centuries, a robot has returned to check in on humanity. This is a small, intimate look at two people discovering each other and themselves. Chambers' other 2021 book, The Galaxy and the Ground Within, is also a fantastic read for this year (but I could only pick one for this list).
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod
This is a Philly-set story of music, love, and ambition. Toni Bennett finally has a chance to make it big, but the man who can make it happen turns out to be her first love, the one who abandoned her years ago.
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Rosaline Palmer’s life has not gone the way she planned, but now she is determined to make a better future for herself and her daughter by winning a competitive baking show. She even begins a rom-com perfect romance with fellow competitor Alain. But an ill-conceived lie and the constant presence of the man who is emphatically not right for her lead her to question everything she thought she believed.
All the Feels by Olivia Dade
Alex is a scandal-plagued actor who is saddled with Lauren as his constant minder to keep him on the straight and narrow. As they get to know each other, they realize those surface impressions aren’t always accurate. This is a hilarious and heartfelt companion novel to last year’s Spoiler Alert.
The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
It sounds like the start of a bad joke: a porn star meets a rabbi. But this book is a delight as Naomi teams up with Ethan to help attract younger people to his synagogue with a seminar series on Modern Love. But they didn't count on falling for each other...
The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson
When twelve-year-old Jax’s best friend dies unexpectedly, he decides to fulfill their dream of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in tribute. He also wants to find the father he’s never known. Desperate to make her son happy again, Sadie agrees to help get Jax to the Fringe as well as find the man who is a mystery even to her. A cross-country road trip with a remarkably capable octogenarian sidekick ensues in a book that is both heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
When Ryland Grace wakes up as the last survivor on a spaceship with no memory of who he is and why he's there, he must figure it out fast or doom all of humanity. Just as snarky, scientific, and fun as The Martian, with an added layer of depth and one of the best characters in SF I've read all year.
You can see all of my favorites from past years, as well as many other Staff Picks and recommendations from other librarians, through our curated lists in our Library Community!
I'll see you back here at the end of 2022 with all the books that made me happy throughout the upcoming year!