A stack of four books on top of a bookshelf

Some of my 2021 reads / Image via Isabella Ranallo

I read 45 books (and five plays) in 2021.

I’ve always been a big reader, but last year was the first time I set out to make a comprehensive list of all the books I read. I was surprised by how many I got through!

I read across a variety of genres last year, stepping outside my comfort zone and being well-rewarded for it. Here are five of my favourite reads from last year.

1 and 2) We Hunt the Flame / We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizel

This two-book series reminded me why I love reading. I have not obsessively enjoyed a fictional story to this extent in what feels like ages.

Faizel’s Sands of Arawiya is a Young Adult Fantasy series. The plot centres around Zafira the Hunter and Nasir the Prince of Death journeying to a darkly dangerous and magical island in the centre of their realm to bring magic back to their people.

Faizel described the initial spark of inspiration for We Hunt the Flame as Lord of the Rings meets The Hunger Games.

I am in love with the characters of Nasir and Zafira, as well as Altair—the equal parts suave and hilarious general who accompanies Nasir on his mission, much to the latter’s annoyance. In addition to the brilliant foes-to-bros progression of Nasir and Altair’s relationship, the romance between Zafira and Nasir is gormet.

Nasir is grumpy, silent, dark-haired and puppy-eyed for the determined and fiery Zafira, full of sass and her sling full of arrows.

I was desperate to devour their scenes together, always impatient to sink my teeth into the next. It was like opening a tin of Quality Street chocolates to discover exclusively my favourite pink fudge ones.

If you like good character and even better romance, check out Faizel’s duology.

3) Greenwood by Michael Christie

This book joined the prestige of being one of the five novels that have made me cry.

Greenwood is a multi-generational novel about the titular Greenwood family, spanning Canada from New Brunswick to B.C. It starts in the early twentieth century and ends in a post-apocalyptic version of 2038.

The event at the core of this story is the abduction of a baby in 1934.

It was Everett and Harris Greenwood that gave this book a special place in my heart. The book’s broad timeframe allowed for a patient look at how the characters came to their fates through a series of innocuous mistakes and factors simply out of their control. It was sad in the most poetic way.

The novel made me think about destiny and generational trauma, took me on an emotional roller coaster, and broke my heart. Cannot recommend enough.

4. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

I was excited to read McQuiston’s novel because of its premise of a public transit meet-cute. I was not disappointed and, in fact, got more than I hoped for.

A common theme seems to be arising of characters making the book for me. Every single character in this book was incredibly well-written and hilarious. I often find myself impatient to get back to the romance scenes, but with One Last Stop, I found myself missing secondary characters when they were absent for too long.

I need to read more books like One Last Stop with its early-twenties cast of characters brimming with lovable and unique personalities and relatable concerns.

5. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

Wild Swans is a family biography I was assigned in a modern Chinese history class I took last semester. I didn’t know much about Chinese history and Chang’s work gave me a lot of knowledge.

The events narrated in this book were so fantastical at times, it was sometimes hard to believe it wasn’t fiction. But it wasn’t! That’s history for you.

Chang’s family story paints a vivid glimpse into the last hundred years of Chinese history that is painful and horrifying, but also fascinating and thought-provoking. This book really transported me to an era and place I’d never read before. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Bonus: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Of course.

I’ve been meaning to diversify my bookshelf for a while, and the results prove that goal’s merit.

I discovered Faizel through a post of YA fantasy titles by POC authors, Christie is a Canadian author (besides Lucy Maud Montgomery, my bookshelf isn’t home to many), One Last Stop is a queer rom-com (both genre and pairing are sadly rare in my collection), and Wild Swans is nonfiction, a genre I rarely read, and about an area of the world I knew little about.

I’ll definitely keep diversifying my reading in 2022. For new genres, I’m excited to embrace rom-com—maybe with Kerry Winfrey’s Very Sincerely Yours—and continue to read Canadian authors, starting with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. I’ll even venture into poetry with the 1000+ page Emily Dickinson collection I got for Christmas.

But one thing seems for certain; I will read.

Editor

Isabella Ranallo is a third-year Creative Writing student at VIU. She's loved storytelling ever since she stole a sheet of her mother's office paper at age four to write the first page of a story about ten kids stranded on a desert island. Her short story, "The Journal," was published in VIRL and Rebel Mountain Press' In Our Own Teen Voice 2019. These days, she spends her free time scribbling away in Moleskine notebooks or searching for cat-inspired stationery.

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