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The Best of 2021 – Anne’s List

I read more new books this year than usual, but it wasn’t easy. First, I tried to rekindle my love of domestic suspense books, but I got sick of naive heroines with the time to watch their ‘perfect’ neighbors. Next, I discovered Dark Academia books – and learned how long most of those books can be. Still, I managed to finish some current books in time for this column. I didn’t pick up as many young adult books this year which, I now I realize, was a mistake! So in the last month, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time.

The Gilded Ones (Deathless, #1) by Namina Forna

This is the book I really tore through this year. It’s a YA feminist fantasy novel that gives off dystopia vibes with a strong connection to West Africa. (The author was born in Sierra Leone.) Unlike many similar YA novels, this is light on the romance angle. It’s also heavy on the violence. Because of her “impure” gold blood, the heroine, Deka, is branded as a “demon” during her village. She is killed several times very early on in the book. Her “curse” makes her extremely powerful. Thanks to a mysterious benefactor, she escapes and joins her fellow outcasts (Alaki) to fight for the empire that is enslaving them. Naturally, Deka and her fellow Alaki encounter misogyny, prejudice, racism, trauma, grisly violence, and more. (Although Deka is “luckier” than many of the other Alaki, she learns about some terrible things from her new fellow warriors.) And of course, as the end approaches, everything is turned on its head.

Buy it at Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

Beyond (The Founding of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey

Yes, it’s true… Mercedes Lackey has written about the Founding of Valdemar. The bad news? This is just book one. Although it has a satisfying conclusion, I’ve already preordered book two because I need to know what comes next. If you couldn’t get into Lackey’s Spy series, give this one a try. I liked it a lot more than the most recent Valdemar books. In the vast Eastern Empire, Duke Kordas Valdemar protects his small duchy from the overly ambitious emperor. He is forced to pretend to be a bumpkin so that no one in the corrupt empire realizes what he’s truly up to. He’s trying to find a way out for his people. Trying to create a new home far away from the corruption, a place that will be more accepting of all people. Of course, like so many of Lackey’s other books, this story includes LGBTQIA characters. Not to mention elementals.

Buy it at Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe

I had been curious about this one since the first time I saw some tweets promoting the webcomic. However, I wasn’t sure about the art because the preview in the promotional tweet didn’t come to life for me. Then, I read Caroline’s DIK review, where she suggests getting the hardcover edition. I peeked at it, and before I knew it, I was buying the darned thing.

Buy it at Amazon or your local independent retailer

The Letters of Shirley Jackson edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman

This huge book was edited by her son, Laurence Jackson Hyman (with Bernice M. Murphy listed as a contributor). It’s a tome, and it daunted me at first. Especially when I realized that Shirley Jackson often wrote long, rambling letters without capitalization, and sometimes, certain words were squished together. But the book was sitting on my shelf and taunting me like a ghost. So I plunged into the letters out of order. (That might be the best way to read this type of book.) I jumped from letter to letter and picked items to read randomly or based on the year or the name of the recipient. Even dipping in and out of the letters will give you revelations about both the life of Shirley Jackson and the life of a writer. How she managed to write stories, novels, and essays plus all those letters while raising four kids is beyond me. (Some of the letters include Jackson’s black-and-white illustrations.)

Buy it at Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

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