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Some of Jen's Favorite Reads of 2021 (so far)

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)

Graphic with Book Covers of the 5 chosen books and text Five of Jen's Favorite Reads of 2021 (so far)

As usual when I set out to create a concise list of something, I struggled with this task, with creating a list of five favorite books that I've read so far in 2021. I've read a LOT of amazing books this year, and I want to tell you about them ALL. But, fear not, I've restrained myself, and I've come up with a list. I won't say that it's the definitive list because there's a great chance that tomorrow, I'll have regrets and wish I'd chosen one of the runners-up. But these five are great. Seriously.

I'm quoting myself here, from last year's list of five (so far): "So, here's my methodology. I looked back at my monthly wrap-up posts in IG, and I ONLY allowed myself to jot down the titles of my five-star reads." That left me with 42 five-star reads. (I track my four-and-a-half star reads, too, but I had mercy on myself and didn't even look at those titles.)

Narrowing further was hard, but I'm pleased with these five. This does skew YA-heavy, but I've read a ton of amazing YA this year, so I think that's fair.

Gene Luen Yang's Dragon Hoops (Amazon |

From the publisher:

"In his latest graphic novel, Dragon Hoops, New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.

"Gene understands stories―comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

"But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him 'Stick' and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it's all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

"Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well."

Why it made the list:

I read this one for our upcoming graphic novel episode (spoiler alert!), and it just blew me away. This is such a sophisticated book, dealing with the role of sports in society, with the way that discrimination on the base of race, gender, ethnicity, and religion has played a role in the history of basketball. It provides a zoomed-out view of basketball in the U.S. and around the world, and then it zooms in to focus on the remarkable players on this one team. It's about the writing process, about an author deciding what to include and what to leave out in a nonfiction book, and about how adults navigate work-life balance. It's also funny! I could not have loved this more.

Tracy Deonn's Legendborn (Amazon |

From the publisher:

"Winner of the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award

"Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.

"After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

"A flying demon feeding on human energies.

"A secret society of so called 'Legendborn' students that hunt the creatures down.

"And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a 'Merlin' and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

"The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

"She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight."

Why it made the list:

I'm a sucker for YA fantasy, and Legendborn is the type of book one that I yearn for: there's a complicated world, there are complex and compelling relationships, and there's a nuanced view of society. This is a retelling of sorts (so it's perfect for the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge), but it weaves together those elements of Arthurian legend with magical elements based in Bree's heritage as a Black woman in the South, which is SO intriguing. The hardest thing about this kind of book is always waiting for book two. (You can read my review here.)

Stephen Graham Jones's The Only Good Indians (Amazon |

From the publisher:

"From New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones comes a novel that is equal parts psychological horror and cutting social commentary on identity politics and the American Indian experience. Fans of Jordan Peele and Tommy Orange will love this story as it follows the lives of four American Indian men and their families, all haunted by a disturbing, deadly event that took place in their youth. Years later, they find themselves tracked by an entity bent on revenge, totally helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way."

Why it made the list:

Ashley has been singing the praises of this book since last year, and I'm so glad I finally read it. (It made her favorites list from the end of 2020!) I had read Graham Jones's earlier book Mongrels (Amazon |—I would also recommend that one—and I'm a fan of horror in general, so I was pretty sure that I would enjoy it. I had NO idea just how much I would love it. This one has revenge, a consideration of heritage and gender, compelling characters . . . and it's SUPER spooky. (You can read my review here.)

T. J. Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea (Amazon |

From the publisher:

"A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

"Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

"When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

"But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

"An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours."

Why it made the list:

This is another book from Ashley's 2020 list, and I had some hesitation about including two from prior lists. But you know those books that you want EVERYONE to read? This is that book. Even people who don't love fantasy should read this book. As Sara would say, this is a book that I just want to hug. I am now on a mission to read Klune's entire backlist. (You can read my review here.)

Aiden Thomas's Cemetery Boys (Amazon |

From the publisher:

"A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas's paranormal YA debut Cemetery Boys.

"Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can't get rid of him.

"When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

"However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school's resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He's determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave."

Why it made the list:

This is the book I chose for last week's YA Lit Recs episode, and it was my first five-star read of the year. It has stuck with me. Every time I think about it, I get that same giddy feeling I had when I first read it. (Sara, this is another huggable one!) There's fantasy and magic, amazing world building, romance, interesting questions about gender's place in one community's traditions . . . it's just a beautiful book. (You can read my review here.)

A few more . . .

Because I can never leave out anything, here are a few of the other five-star reads from the year that I thought about including:

Angeline Boulley's Firekeeper’s Daughter (Amazon | | Review)

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo's Children of the Land (Amazon | | Review)

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (Amazon | | Review)

Mira Jacob's Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (Amazon | | Review | Episode)

Patrik Svensson's The Book of Eels (Amazon | | Review | Discussion Guide)

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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