Second Story Press' favourite books of the year

Second Story Press' favourite books of the year

Posted by Second Story Press on

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The holidays are upon us, and 2021 is almost over. You’ve probably noticed newspapers and websites releasing their annual “Best of 2021” lists for reading. But why do we need to label the “Best”? Reading during the pandemic has been strange for many of us. For some, we’ve read more than usual, or we’ve expanded into different genres or started listening to audiobooks. For others, it’s been difficult to read for fun at all and have found it easier to return to our favourites for comfort. Instead of a “Best of 2021” list, we at Second Story Press wanted to share some of our favourite books this year. These are books that stuck with us, brought us comfort, or got us out of reading slumps!



  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Flatiron 2019): I love Leigh Bardugo’s writing and this one didn't disappoint. Dark Academia is so enchanting!
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins 2019): Very different style of writing from much of what I was reading, so it was refreshing. Very emotional and so evocative of time and place.
  • Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi (Arsenal Pulp 2020): A gorgeously written book that sticks in the mind long after finishing; so sensual!


2021 was a tough reading year for me for sure, but I think for many of us too. I read less overall and much more in my favourite genres (YA fantasy, anyone?), but I’m surprised which ones made my top three! 

  • Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty (HarperCollins 2020): This series starts strong but finishes exceptionally. Somewhere in the middle of book two the plot goes wild and it doesn't ever let up. I'm a big fan of enemies to friends/lovers and Chakraborty has done a really nuanced, thoughtful job here. I do have a bone or two to pick with her over that ending though....
  • Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (Doubleday Canada 2021): I'm not sure I've ever read a book I've related to more, for all sorts of both good and bad reasons. It might be the best book I've read in years.
  • The Girl Who Hated Books by Manjusha Pawagi (Second Story Press 1998): I laughed out loud reading this for the first time this year. I loved Pawagi’s non-fiction writing, and this book proved she’s really got range.
  • Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman (Scholastic 1992): This was a re-read from my childhood (don't we all need a bit of extra comfort these days?) and my memories held up. It's just a really sweet story.


  • Five Little Indians by Michelle Good (HarperCollins 2020): A heartbreaking but necessary read.
  • The Doll by Nhung N. Tran-Davies (Second Story Press 2021): My family were also Boat People—my mother was pregnant with me at the time—so Nhung’s story is close to my heart. Her compassion and desire to help others is inspiring.
  • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (Penguin Random House 2020): It takes place in a school for magic—not that one—and features a prickly heroine who may or may not be an evil witch.


I’m going to join my 2020 and 2021 reading together into one Pandemic Reading List because is anybody really making distinctions between the last two years?

  • In fiction, I read a lot of cozy mysteries, wanting the comfort of a good puzzle, sometimes accompanied by recipes. I discovered Lyn Hamilton’s Lara McClintoch Archaeology Mystery Series (Berkley 1997–2007) and am working my way down the list.
  • My favourite non-crime novel was Machine without Horses by Helen Humphreys (HarperCollins 2018). I usually love her work and I wasn’t disappointed by this one.
  • Faye Guenther’s thoughtful story collection, Swimmers in Winter (Invisible Publishing 2020) and Catherine Graham’s luminous Aether: An Out-of-Body Lyric (Wolsak & Wynn 2021) also brought me joy.
  • In non-fiction, They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis (McClelland & Stewart 2020) is a frank and furious exposure of what life is like for young Black women at university. Hint: it’s not fun.
  • Mary Fairhurst Breen’s memoir Any Kind of Luck at All (Second Story Press 2021) made me admire someone I already like, giving readers an honest, touching, and sometimes hilarious look at her life.
  •  In poetry, I loved poetry Rachel McKibbens’ Blud (Copper Canyon Press 2017) and Paul Vermeersch’s Shared Universe (ECW 2020), and food writing by Samin Nosrat and Rachel Roddy.

I hope that 2022 will be a different kind of year, and I look forward to the book discoveries that are waiting there.



  •   Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Random House 2021): I felt voracious reading this book; I didn't want it to end. It reminded me of Miyazaki's film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, but with even more of a bad-ass, revenge-seeking protagonist who wants to destroy the sexist system. The action was well done, and I was invested in the romance. I loved all of it.

  • Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (Doubleday Canada 2021): Captivating, funny, beautiful, and horrifying. Nightbitch is a magnificent investigation of femininity, motherhood, and aggression. I will definitely read this book again.
  • Exhibitionist by Molly Cross-Blanchard (Coach House Books 2021): This is the kind of poetry I love. The details are sharp, the speaker's honesty is invigorating, and many of the poems made me laugh out loud.
  • Kink: Stories edited by R.O. Kwon & Garth Greenwell (Simon & Schuster 2021): I feel like I've been waiting for this anthology for years without even knowing it. I loved that it wasn't afraid to look away. It's about so much more than the sexual spectrum and desire; each story offers vulnerability, openness, and sometimes humour, sometimes heartbreak.

Everyone at Second Story Press wishes you happy holidays, and we hope you’ll continue to support local in any last-minute shopping! 




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