Books, Comics & Zines I Read in 2021

I’ll be updating this page throughout the year, hoping to meet my reading challenge of 52 books (eligible books are numbered below) and read a lot of the books in my Unread folder. You can follow me on Goodreads too or read about what I read in 2020, 2019 & 2018. Some links to buy are affiliate links. Please note I am a kind and generous reviewer and usually give a 4 star review. I mainly choose books by whatever is under £3 on my wish list and try to keep switching between genres and fiction/non-fiction.

kindle

August

31. Farthing by Jo Walton ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Jo Walton’s book review posts on Tor are always so good and I thought I should read more of her own books. This one is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery at a famous political house in the country but set in a post-war England where Britain made a peace deal with Hitler. It starts off in a cosy comic style but gets darker and darker. Do we really need any more ‘what if the Nazis won WW2’ books? Probably not. But this also works really well as a ‘what if Agatha Christie books weren’t obsessed with Jews & Communists ruining the world?’ I really like the main characters, especially the detective, so I will likely read the rest of the series. [Buy]

30. Beach Read by Emily Henry ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a cute idea where a romance writer and a literary fiction writer challenge each other to get over their respective writers’ blocks by writing in each others’ genre. The way they teach each other about writing and research is fun but the actual romance has a few too many annoying tropes to be enjoyable. [Buy]

29. Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a really good astronaut autobiography that benefits hugely from not having a ghost writer/collaborator. Michael Collins’ writing style is very folksy and a little bit mixed up and rambling but he also has a lot of personality and an imaginative way of describing things. I love reading about Apollo and there’s a lot of great stories and descriptions in here that I had not really heard before. It does go into a LOT of detail about technical stuff and flying, plus the Apollo 11 team was not the most exciting bunch of people, but I enjoyed it all. The updated introductions as time passes are quite poignant too but do raise the question of why some of the more colourful and iffy opinions of a white guy from the 1950s weren’t removed from the original book text. [Buy]

July

28. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Some of my recent online reading made me realise that the Obama era kind of passed me by (I am British and US politics didn’t really overwhelm our news/social media until the 2016 election so I only remember the big stuff). This is a book of essays written during Obama’s presidency (1 per year + a personal introduction and epilogue) that filled in a lot of gaps for me. Extremely well-written & researched, great arguments/theories, lots to think about. [Buy]

27. The Idea of You by Robinne Lee ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a fairly trashy Hollywood romance novel about an older woman who falls for her daughter’s favourite boy band idol. It was fun enough that I finished it but I didn’t care about any of these rich selfish people trying to deal with fame, celebrity etc. [Buy]

26. Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Despite desperately wanting this book ever since that ending of book 2, time has been very weird this summer and suddenly it was here! I tried not to rush through it but I love these characters so much. There’s not much you can say about the final book in a trilogy with spoilering stuff but it had everything I wanted and a lot more too. Also very funny and I need to reread soon and highlight everything. What are we supposed to do now without Simon & Baz…and Penny….and Shepherd from Omaha? [Buy]

25. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I completely understand why people would hate this book as it is extremely whimisical and has a whole ‘stories within stories within stories’ format that gets a bit self-indulgent (having your characters openly praise stories that you also wrote is a little narcissistic!). However, I really liked the concept of a hidden library with all its history and mysteries and found the characters interesting. It did drag a bit in places and got very confusing near the end but I’m glad I read it. [Buy]

June

24. Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I enjoyed The Terror TV show so much and read a few articles on the real expedition after but was happy to spot this in the 99p deals. I’ve never actually read a Michael Palin book before and probably shouldn’t have been surprised at how good a writer he is. It covers the whole life of the ship and probably half of the book is about earlier Antarctic explorations. It goes into a lot of detail and has clearly been well researched, plus he manages to stay out of the story himself. There’s some personal travel memories here and there but they never overwhelm and even though you can tell he admires these men and considers them heroes, he’s perfectly willing to point out all their mistakes and personality flaws. Definitely recommended. [Buy]

23. All Stirred Up by Brianne Moore ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I always try to support books by bloggers whose writing I’ve enjoyed for free. This is by The Armchair Anglophile who (used to) generally blog about historical and period drama TV shows. However it is a modern retelling of Persuasion set in Edinburgh’s restaurant scene. It was so nice to read a romance novel set in Scotland written by someone who clearly knows the city well, though the attempts at local vernacular were a bit cringey. Generally it was fine for a quick read but everyone other than the main couple felt like cartoon characters and not real people. I also found it super weird that the protagonist had zero friends – just family and employees – but maybe that was because of the Persuasion inspiration (I can’t remember anything about that book!). [Buy]

22. Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy by Ben Macintyre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I was in a bit of a reading slump and these books are always an exciting and fast read. This might be his best book as it has less patriotic pro-British fawning than usual, since it focuses on a communist German Jew. It really is an incredible and fascinating story, of a woman who lived through both the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall – and spied for the Soviet Union and the WW2 allies. [Buy]

May

21. Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This was a Christmas gift I gave to my dad and he then lent it to me. It’s a good mix of articles previously published in the magazine/website, and all with a general theme of humans vs nature in remote places. That includes travel, animals, environmental issues and extreme sports. It does get a little alpha male at times but I didn’t skip a single story and enjoyed them all. Not having the photos is a real loss though, and Outside are still publishing great new stuff, so I would recommend having a dig around in their Long Reads section and joining their mailing list instead. [Buy]

20. Heartstopper: Volume Four by Alice Oseman 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Lovely to have Nick & Charlie back, and so in love. I was worried about this volume as this part of Charlie’s mental health issues was already told in the background one of her novels and was really traumatic, and I didn’t want to go through it all again in more detail. Thankfully, she does a time jump and tells that part through a few flashbacks and journal entries to find different angles. It’s all very sensitively done – making it clear that mental health isn’t something you can fix overnight through love or asking for help, but a much longer process with setbacks. I do wish there was more time for some of the side characters and hope they’ll get a bit more to do in the final book. [Buy]

19. The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This has been on my wish list for years, after I read an excerpt, and it was so much better than I expect. It’s a real truth is stranger than fiction tale that is both difficult to summarise and better read without too much prior knowledge. I really loved that it’s almost 3 different short books – an interesting history of natural history collecting and the use of exotic birds in fashion, a classic true crime long read on the heist and the person behind it, and a first person race against time piece about the author becoming obsessed by a case. It’s also brilliant how it subtly juxtaposes the Victorian ladies who turned against the fashion and started bird protection leagues, and the modern day men who insist it’s their right to illegally sell, trade and steal endangered animals to make fishing flies they’ll never use. Could have been 5 stars but it has such a messy unresolved ending and a bit too much about the author’s life. [Buy]

18. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I spent about 80% of this book thinking it was great but no Circe, and then it kept getting better and better. It’s a much simpler, smaller story – essentially a love story – but also with gods and prophesies and the siege of Troy. Just really beautiful and tragic. [Buy]

17. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I don’t remember buying this but have been picking short books from my Unread folder. This is a collection of short columns from magazines etc. and she’s obviously a witty writer but it’s very much of its time and I found myself cringing a lot. It’s just a bit too superficial and rich celebrity and likely inspired all the modern female writers I hate who do that whole ‘I live in London and my life is a disaster and I am unlucky in love and hugely in debt and constantly binge drinking and spending a fortune on beauty products that don’t work – isn’t it all hilarious and relatable?!’ [Buy]

16. Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a weirdly unputdownable book, considering the horrible topic, but the author has a great writing style that keeps you interested. She’s also super brave and I spent way too much time expecting something terrible to happen as she infiltrated various private online groups who were already wishing death on her. Definitely recommended to understand quite what we’re dealing with – how people get radicalised and how they can be stopped. [Buy]

15. Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren by Charles Soule ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A comic that explains some of Kylo Ren’s backstory that was missing from the movies, like who the hell are the Knights of Ren? I’m not too keen on the art style but the story is interesting enough that I will likely read the rest.[Buy]

14. The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is one of the new Hercule Poirot books and I was intrigued enough when it popped up on my 99p newsletter to give it a go. It just didn’t work for me though and felt a bit pointless. I wasn’t expecting the writing style or Poirot to be exactly the same Agatha Christie but he felt like a completely different character. The mystery was also a bit underwhelming and overly-complicated. I did like the new police friend character/narrator though so would possibly try the author’s original books at some point. [Buy]

Annually 2021 by the Pet Shop Boys & Chris Heath ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I always immediately pre-order these annual fan books but I was a bit concerned it might be a bit boring this year since they cover all the events/anniversaries/releases/touring/recording etc of the previous year. However, it was an interesting as ever, with what they’ve been doing in lockdown and look back at their first year of fame from diary entries. Best free CD yet too. [Buy]

April

13. Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I dragged this out but still finished way too fast and now I am sad it’s all over! I liked this a lot better than King of Scars and Nikolai was on top form throughout. I don’t want to spoiler anyone so I’ll just the say all the cameos were so fun (though generally unnecessary), way less people died than I was dreading and Zoya might have one the best character arcs ever. I hope there is more Grishaverse some day but at least we have the Netflix show too. I binged that over 3 days and it is way better than I dared to hope, though the Dregs/Crows are inevitably 100x more watchable than the actual Shadow & Bone stuff. [Buy]

Only 1 book this month despite reading All The Time. Mostly a re-read of A Man on the Moon which finally got an ebook release. I’m now 3 books behind schedule so need to sort myself out.

March

12. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I remember being so bored watching the movie of this (we gave up half way through) but the Disney+ TV series was cool and made me want to read more about Mercury so I dug this up from the depths of my Kindle. The writing style takes a bit of getting used to but it has a real rhythm to it and pulls you back to the 1960s. It’s a good overview of the Mercury astronauts and missions, plus weaving in the stories of their erstwhile test pilot colleagues flying rocket planes adds a lot of interesting stuff I didn’t know about. All the patriotic good old heroic military men stuff does get a bit tedious though, as is the starry-eyed admiration for their general macho nonsense. [Buy]

11. Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Very similar sequel to his original year long diary of running a second hand bookshop in Wigtown. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable though as enough time has passed that there’s new employees, friends and customers to poke fun at. I also really liked the excerpts from an old parody book about a book seller at the beginning of each month and will need to try and find a copy. [Buy]

10. Bunny by Mona Awad ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This starts out as a decent college-based book about outsiders vs a weird group of girls who call each other Bunny, but I don’t think anyone could possibly guess where it all goes next and what the bunnies are up to. There’s an incredible chapter written as a stream of consciousness from the mind of a bunny girl that will stay with me for a long time. However, the twist ending was a too obvious that even I guessed it. I was also a bit uncomfortable with the way the bunnies were portrayed as silly, childish and hateable for liking cute things, while another girl who was into punk goth stuff was obviously much smarter and admirable. [Buy]

9. Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice Leblanc ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The (great!) Netflix show made me wonder why I have never read these books, since Castle of Cagliostro is one of my favourite films of all time. They’re in the public domain now so there really is no excuse. As expected, I loved this and it has the same style as other classics of that era with a big debt to Sherlock Holmes (who even makes an appearance!). Great fun and I am already planning to ration the other books so I have more to look forward to. [Free to download]

February

8. Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 2 by Kamome Shirahama 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
This continues to be great so I am in for the long haul now. It’s such a cute and magical story with beautiful art. I was glad to see the other girls getting a bit of the spotlight as the big flaw with the first book was their elitist mean girl attitude. Especially loved them working together to make the cutest spell to escape a dragon! [Buy]

The rest of the month I have been re-reading all the Grishaverse books to be ready for the new Nikolai book and Netflix show. So excited about both.

January

7. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I’ve only read 2 or 3 things by Stephen King as I’m not a horror fan but he’s undoubtably a great writer and this is a really good book. It’s part memoir and part writing advice and both parts are interesting, though the memoirs were probably my favourite. I really got into his origin story of how he became a writer and there’s a bunch of extras at the end including a gripping tale of getting hit by a truck, a look at his real-life editing process and loads of personal book recommendations. The descriptions of some of his own books made me realise they’re not all straight up horror either and I’m going to add a few to my wish list. [Buy]

6. Paradise Kiss: 20th Anniversary Edition by Ai Yazawa 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
I don’t usually count re-reads for this challenge (no shade on anyone who does!) but this is a new edition of my favourite manga ever with what appears to be an updated translation, plus some beautiful new full colour illustrations. I was tempted to buy the paperback but I already have the individual books so I got the ebook to read on my iPad. It’s the story of serious student Yukari who gets involved with a group of misfit fashion students and all kinds of drama occurs. I loved catching up with these characters again but they still break my heart (especially adorable super-kawaii Miwako). [Buy]

5. Rescue Me by Sarra Manning ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Even though she only writes adult romance books now, that aren’t generally my thing, I will always give a new Sarra Manning book a go, due to her incredible run of YA novels back in the day. This is a cute romance about 2 people who both fall in love with a rescue dog and agree to co-pawrent it. Of course they end up falling in love with each other too. Even though I’m not a dog person at all, Blossom the staffie is so well written that she’s really the main character and goes through even more character development than the humans. [Buy]

4. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I don’t even remember buying this but I accidentally opened it when choosing my next book and the first page was interesting enough that I kept reading it. The first few chapters set out the circumstances of 3 unsolved crimes and the rest of the book is about the relatives and a private detective who comes to discover they’re all connected. It keeps you guessing all the way through and is generally a good read but it does tend to keep picking the obvious explanation and then adding an extra twist at the end that gets a bit annoying. I enjoyed it but probably won’t read any more of the series. [Buy]

3. The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A real version of the book Alina reads in Shadow & Bone! It’s set out like a book of fables with stories about each saint – either their origin story or a person who called on them. Each story is short and surprising but they do get a bit repetitive so better for dipping into than reading all in one go as I did. Lovely artwork too. [Buy]

2. I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I never read any of Emily Nussbaum’s work when she was writing about the golden age of peak TV so it was cool to catch up and read about some of my favourite programmes. I realise there’s not much you can do about it now, but some pieces are just too short or focused on a specific season that make them a little less interesting so long after. Much better are the long profiles with showrunners and other major TV players including Ryan Murphy, Jenji Kohan and Joan Rivers. I didn’t really know anything about any of these people or their work but they were all fascinating. [Buy]

1. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
A treat to begin the year. I follow VE Schwab on social media and went to one of her readings a couple of years ago so have been following this book’s journey for a long time. The tale of a girl who makes a deal with the devil and gets freedom and immortality but is forgotten by everyone as soon as she is out of their sight. I initially felt like this was a pretty good deal until I understood the sneakiness of this bargain in reality – having no home, money, job, possessions, friends and family, or even the ability to create anything or tell your own story. Addie’s journey over 300 years as she finds a way to survive and make some mark on the world is so well done, and then she meets someone who remembers her. I kind of wish I hadn’t waited to read this as I think it got a bit overhyped and could only feel a little disappointing. But I still loved it and look forward to reading it again once the attention has died down a bit. [Buy]