Pandemic Year 2 (2021) Book Round-Up

My dear friend Chandler Webster and I decided that we both wanted to share our reading recommendations. I’m here to give you a full list of what I read this year, and the bolded ones with some blurbs under them are my HIGHLY recommended reads.

I read so much this year. I think the need for escapism from the pandemic plus the capitalistic decline of the U.S. manifested itself in revitalizing my reading habits! So, without further ado, here’s what I read this year in fiction, stage plays, nonfiction, poetry, and chapbooks/literary magazines.


Fiction


  • The Love Study by Kris Ripper
  • Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
    • Punching the Air was incredible. Reading a novel in verse, especially one as important as this one about the prison industrial complex and how it targets primarily Black POC and especially Black adolescents via the school-to-prison pipeline was chilling. This is a must-read.
  • online: The Omen Girl by Evelyn Yang
    • I have never loved something I’ve read online quite like I’ve loved this. The Omen Girl deserves publication, and I’d be one of the first people to buy it. Its beautiful prose writing, its bittersweet moments, its pacing, and the journey through the novel made it one of my favorite reads ever. I seriously hope it gets published to print soon.
  • Given by Nandi Taylor
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    • Literary classic. I can’t believe it took me this long to read it. I loved every bit of it.
  • The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole
    • If you need a steamy scifi romance, then this one is for you! This was such a fun, quick read. The characters are lovely to journey with, and the twists and turns were so much fun. I will be reading more of Alyssa Cole’s work in the future!
  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
    • One of my new favorite books. We love a speculative starcrossed lovers story set in 1920s Shanghai! Roma and Juliette are *chef’s kiss* and the side characters are also *chef’s kiss* This novel has some of the best social commentary I’ve read in a YA novel too. A must-read.
  • The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
    • Honestly, I almost didn’t include this one as a recommended book, but I liked it well-enough, and I loved the fact that this lonely girl wrote so much fanfic in space. When the ending began to ramp up and the thriller aspects became more apparent, I was hooked. Great YA sci-fi thriller!
  • online: Legally Black by Idris Grey (novella)
  • Awaken: an Amarah Rey, Fey Warrior novel by Harmony Haun
  • The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
    • Grim, dark, and gripping. If you want to read a tragic tale regarding the lives of those in a village during Mao and post-Mao era China, this is a great read. I will be reading more of Yiyun Li’s works in the future for sure. The prose is tight, gorgeously written even when discussing violence and tragedy, and immersive.
  • Revenge of the Sluts by Natalie Walton
  • Loveboat Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
    • This book has such a fun cast of characters, and the more Ever grew in her journey, the more attached to her I felt. This is a great YA contemporary romance/coming-of-age novel with an all-East Asian cast.
  • online: Z-BITES by Corrine (novella)
  • online: Transylvania by Brian J. Rhymer (novella)
  • online: Sam Walker and the Grim Reaper Services by Skylar Wittenborn (novella)
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
    • The first V.E. Schwab book I’ve ever read, and I’m hooked. I love Kell and Lila and the others. What fantastic world-building. I’m excited to finish reading the rest of the series!
  • Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
    • Pirate girls in a speculative, dystopian future. I love it. The writing style is immersive and fun. The first in a trilogy!
  • Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
    • This novel blew me away, from its commentary on growing up Pakistani-American, to identity and Trump and more, this is one of the best books of 2020 as far as I’m concerned. Controversial in all the best ways.
  • online: A Buried and a Burning Flame by Philline Harms
  • online: Ocean Blue by Olivia Vaughn
  • Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
  • A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
    • A Dowry of Blood was one of my favorite reads of 2021. A novella packed with dark, Gothic imagery; a bisexual & polyamorous reimagining of Dracula’s brides; and commentary on abusive relationships. This is one that has gotten a lot of well-deserved recognition and still deserves more. I love how the supposed Dracula figure is always addressed as “you” too.
  • The Bone Way by Holly J. Underhill
  • Steeltide by Natalie C. Parker
    • Sequel to Seafire. Perhaps better than the first. I love all of the new characters introduced way too much. There is more explanation of war, cruelty, and suffering in this one too. Also, our main character Caledonia must make impossible choices, and feeling her frustration and sadness is what brings this sequel to life.
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
    • Very hyped up, and I wasn’t disappointed. It made me cry. A lot. V.E. Schwab is one of my new favorite authors for sure.
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Swallow by Sam Schill
  • Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis
    • I binge-read Bad Witch Burning in one sitting. It was so engaging, and the concept of bringing back the dead and making money for it to escape a bad home life makes my heart yearn and break at the same time. Katrell is a fantstic protagonist and narrator. Her journey was so moving to read about. One of the best books that came out in 2021.
  • Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
  • A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
    • Cemetery Boys made me so happy, even when it was dealing with difficult and dark issues. I loved Yadriel, Julian, Maritza, and all of the other characters so much. While I had an inkling of how the ending might play out, reading this filled me with so much joy. This one is a masterpiece of a YA novel.
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
  • Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite anthology edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker
  • Maiden, Mother, Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes anthology edited by Gwen Benaway
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • There’s Magic Between Us by Jillian Maria
    • This was SUCH a treat to read. I had been dying to read this for months when I stumbled on a link to it via a writer’s Discord by chance, and I was not disappointed. Lydia is a fun narrator—so very teenager in all the best ways—and Eden is her perfect balance. I was so fond of every character and the progression of the plot. The world-building felt like just enough and was never overkill. Jillian Maria is a must-read author! Though I have the ebook, I’m thinking I want to buy a physical copy because this is definitely a book I’d read again. It is also indie-published, so support an indie author by reading this one!
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
    • I really enjoyed savoring Circe as a read. Experiencing Circe’s voice and sense of self grow over the course of the novel, through hardships and heartbreak alike, made the ending so worth it.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Tink and Wendy by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
    • Listen… I was not reading Leigh Bardugo for far too long. Six of Crows far outstrips Shadow and Bone, but both were enjoyable! As for Six of Crows, the book’s writing style really helped not only elevate the stakes for each character but made their relationships to each other and their struggles all the more compelling. I feel like this would be a great play…

Stage Plays

  • reread: One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace
    • The ultimate plague play. I will always love this zany, bitter little piece.
  • Theater Artists Making Theatre with No Theater collected works compiled by Sheila Callaghan, Kelly Miller, and Meg Miroshnik
  • Untitled Feminist Show by Young Jean Lee
  • Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee
  • Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
  • Noh Exit: 16 Short Plays for the End of Days by Melvin Perry
  • Heroes of the Fourth Turning by Will Arbery
  • Much Ado About Mean Girls by Ian Doescher

Manga/Graphic Novels

  • Attack on Titan volumes 1-34 by Hajime Isayama
    • Enough said. I can’t stop thinking about this story and all the risks Isayama took with it. I will have another, separate blog post on it once the anime finally finishes in 2022.
  • Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen
    • This graphic novel made me feel so much better as an artist living in a U.S. that constantly feels as though it’s on fire, whether metaphorically or physically. The afterword at the end about art and process and creating really struck me too.
  • Fangs by Sarah Andersen
    • I love Sarah Andersen’s works, and Fangs lived up to the expectation that the Sarah’s Scribbles series does.
  • I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama
  • A Witch’s Love at the End of the World volumes 1-3 by Kojira
  • I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by Yoru Sumino
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  • Nanjing: The Burning City by Ethan Young
  • Book Love by Debbie Tung
  • Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung
  • Maneaters volumes 1-3
  • Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
    • Toxic high school friendships where you and your friends turn into werewolves to kill your male assaulters/abusers. It’s a sapphic read too, so even better!
  • Attack on Titan Comic Book Anthology
  • Fruits Basket Another Volumes 2 and 3 by Natsuki Takaya
  • The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver
  • The Walking Cat by Tomo Kitaoka
    • Listen. Cats + zombie apocalypse WORKS. This is such a heartfelt short manga series. I highly recommend if you’re looking for a different kind of zombie story.

Nonfiction

  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  • Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
    • This one should be required reading. It’s short, to the point, and affirming.
  • Talking to My Daughter About the Economy or, How Capitalism Works–and How It Fails by Yanis Varoufakis
    • My friend Chandler actually recommended this one to me! I loved how easy everything was laid out to understand. It doesn’t make many sweeping generalizations but still explains as though he is only talking to his daughter casually about all of this. I recommend!
  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis
    • Angela Davis is always required reading. These interviews and speeches of hers were great to situate me in her line of thinking. I’m looking forward to reading more of her in-depth works!
  • Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women the Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
    • Having Mikki Kendall lay out what actual feminism would look like beyond the mainstream version for Black women should also be required reading for non-Black people.

Poetry

  • Queer Heartache by Kit Yan
  • Toast by Loustella Perry
  • Words Like Thunder: New and Used Anishinaabe Prayers by Lois Beardslee
    • This was such a delight to read, even when it was hard to read at times due to the knowledge that sits within (or should sit within) all of us: the ongoing genocide of indigenous people. Lois Beardslee clearly articulates both her lived experiences and the lived experiences of indigenous people throughout the years. Her poems are haunting, lovely, and startling. I love how direct her poems can be sometimes. Definitely recommend reading this one!

Literary Magazines/Chapbooks/Novelettes


Onward to 2022, with a reading goal of 50 books!

You can follow my Bookstagram account to see my 2022 reading throughout the year 🙂 Until then, I’ve got to go read!

Published by Alyssa Cokinis

writer, theatre artist, and founder/EIC of some scripts literary magazine

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