We're halfway through 2021, and it's been a pretty solid reading year for me! It's time to flip back through the novels I've read so far and point out the best books of my year so far!
Here are my favorite reads of 2021 (so far)!
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
This was my first read of the new year! It was a Barnes and Noble "Pick" for January. It's a fantasy novel, focusing on Linus Baker! Linus is an employee for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY); he's very humdrum, content to go through the motions as he oversees magical orphans.
But his mindset changes when he's assigned to a secret orphanage and sent out of the gray-scale city to report back on six dangerous, magical orphans and their caretaker.
This book is a top contender for favorite book of the year. From the writing to the plot, there's so much to love about The House in the Cerulean Sea. Linus is one of my favorite characters of all time, and he's a lot different than many of the characters you see in fantasy novels. Rather than charging ahead, Linus drags his feet through his life until the inhabitants of the orphanage begin to challenge his beliefs and attitudes. Linus is worth the read. The book is unconventional, but great.
Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Discovery of Witches is the other contender for my favorite book of the year! This book hit me hard, and it's definitely stuck with me since I finished the series in February!
The three-book fantasy series focuses on the life of Diana Bishop, a young academic who rejects her family background... they're all witches. She makes her way in life without the use of magic but struggles to keep it under control.
On a trip to Oxford to present about her field of study, Diana accidentally discovers a bewitched text in the heart of the Bodleian Library, she's thrust back into the life she's trying so hard to avoid.
Enter: Matthew Clairmont, a tousled-black-haired geneticist, All Souls fellow, and vampire. Matthew gives me butterflies in the most horrific way. His whole character takes vampire books to another level, and I love everything about the way Harkness elevates the genre. There is SO much to love about this series: the writing, the characters, the plot... It's not perfect, but it's pretty close, and I'm super impressed with how it all comes together into these three books.
Spellmaker by Charlie N. Holmberg
Spellmaker was a surprise for me! It came in the March 2021 Scribbler book box, and I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the story and writing.
Infusing outlawed and regulated magic into the London of 1895, Spellbreaker is the story of orphaned Elsie Camden. Unlike the upper-crust magicians who can afford to cultivate their gifts through formal education and discover where their affinities lay, Elsie is no magic wielder, no "aspector" of any kind. She's a spell-breaker. Outlawed.
Working for a secret organization that recruited her as a child, she's sent to undo some magical wards along the property line of a local Duke in order to free the servants from being treated poorly. However, while she's unravelling the magic, she's discovered by Bacchus Kelsey, a man with the ability to influence physical matter. On opposite sides of the law, they soon discover they both face prejudice. Her for unregistered magic and spell break abilities, and Bacchus for the color of his skin.
I'm a huge historical fiction fan, and it's not very often that I see magic and fantasy mixed in. I loved the tone and writing of the story, and the world-building. Holmberg takes the aesthetic of historical London and gives it another element. I love how the magic plays out between Bacchus and Elsie, creating tension between them. On top of that, I love the how the time period adds to that tension and makes it even more of a slow-burn.
Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell and Sam Mags, illustrated by Gabi Nam
2021 is the year of Manga and graphic novels, for me! I started diving deeper into them when I worked at Barnes & Noble, and I was really excited to find Fangirl as a Manga (graphic novel) series.
Fangirl is a book I discovered in 2014, when I was in college and struggling. The book is a standalone novel about a college freshman who can't adjust. Her name is Cath, and she'd rather write fanfiction and hide out in her room than really immerse herself in the college experience. The only thing that excites her is her writing class.
As someone who went through the exact same thing (at that time), it was helpful to read about Cath's anxieties and fears. The book focuses a lot about finding your voice and yourself, overcoming anxieties, and fitting in. Cath grows into herself as she becomes more comfortable with the people around her, including her roommate Reagan and Levi.
The Manga version was so true to the original novel. The artist did such a great job conveying the story through the facial expressions of the characters, and I found myself so amused and happy to be able to see the characters, not just read about them. Manga, normally, is all about the story for me and I don't normally feel like the images enhance the story, but are just a necessary part. In Fangirl's case, the art really made it so much better.
I don't currently have a review up for the Fangirl manga, but you can purchase the novel on Amazon and B&N and the graphic novel on Amazon and B&N. This was a pivotal book for me at a time I really needed it, and I was so pleased that the graphic novel brought back that same sense of comfort.
The Mortal Instruments Graphic Novel by Cassandra Clare, illustrated by Cassandra Jean
This is another book to graphic novel adaptation! The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare is a YA fantasy novel! The series focuses on a group of people called Shadowhunters, who hunt demons in the human world. City of Bones is the first book in the series, and it's the story of Clary and Jace.
Clary Frey is a human girl, and one night she's out with her friend Simon and she witnesses a murder. Only... no one else can see the murderers. The next day, she sees one of them following her and Simon, and when she confronts him, she discovers an entire world exists out of view of the humans...
It feels so funny to describe The Mortal Instruments because it's such a iconic book in YA. Cassandra Clare has written dozens of the books in the world, focusing on Shadowhunters throughout history, and they're pretty amazing when it comes to story and world-building.
The Shadowhunters were a big part of my life when I was younger. I even have a tattoo on my thigh. When the graphic novels came out, it was a really welcome dive back into the world, and the novels are a really good adaptation. It was great to delve back into Clary and Jace's story, and see it play out across the pages.
The novel series is available on Amazon and B&N, and the graphic novel is available on Amazon and B&N as well! The graphic novel is available as part of Kindle Unlimited too! If you haven't read the Shadowhunters book, I recommend starting there! It's good to start with City of Bones, but quickly work your way to the The Inferno Devices series!