2021 was another categorically Really Weird Year, but gosh there were some good books! This is my personal list of favourites, ranging from chaotic coming-of-age comedies to mythical urban fantasies to mecha battles to portal fantasies to time-hopping romances and back again. Take a look and see what catches your eye—and as always, let me know what your favourite reads were! There are always, always more novels to add to the pile.
(A title like “Best Queer Books I Read in 2021” would be superfluous—basically, assume these have queer protagonists or at least main ensemble cast members. It is the sensible option at this point on this blog)
Premise: Briseis has had power over plants for as long as she can remember: flowers bloom when she walks by, ivy tangles when she gets anxious, she can bring even the most shrivelled sprouts back to life with a touch, and she’s immune to poisonous weeds that should kill within minutes. It makes helping out in her mothers’ florist easy, but it’s also a struggle to keep the magic hidden. When Briseis finds out a long-lost biological relative has passed away and willed her a country house, she jumps at the opportunity to discover more about her power and her lineage, and finds herself quickly tangled in family secrets of mythological proportions.
Rainbow rep: a sapphic protagonist, a cool sapphic love interest, and the protagonist’s delightful two mothers
Content considerations: some gnarly descriptions of poison taking effect, brief discussions of systemic racism
Much of the joy of This Poison Heart is watching the mystery at its centre unfold. I like to keep these spotlight posts spoiler-free so they can intrigue and entice, so I’ll be saying very little about the deeper machinations of this book, but I do want you to know that I ate through it in two days because I got so swept up exploring this world and its secrets alongside Briseis. It’s a lot of fun, complete with spooky secret gardens, hidden compartments containing lost documents, and nefarious villains and twisty-twists. All that classic magic-adventure-mystery stuff, capping off with a glorious reveal about our protagonist’s Secret Legacy. It’s delightful to see some of these tried-and-true tropes given to a heroic Black, queer character. As author Kalynn Bayron herself discussed recently, these concepts are not “overdone” until everyone has had a turn, and there are still plenty of twists and takes on them to be tried before the well is dry.