The Most Brilliant Books of 2021

Book cover collage

The year is out, but the results are in!  After much deliberation, our booksellers have compiled a selection of titles that we consider the Most Brilliant Books of 2021.  They are ranked alphabetically by author, and not by merit, as all are equally Brilliant.  Each one brought something unique to the literary landscape of 2021.  Which ones have you read?


 

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Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals By Oliver Burkeman Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780374159122
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - August 10th, 2021

A ‘time management’ book that is not a selection of tips and hacks on how to cram even more into every day.  Rather it challenges us as to why we feel we need to.   As someone who has already enjoyed over 3000 of my allotted weeks this book was revelatory.  Brilliant Books Monthly subscribers have described it as ‘life changing’.  — Peter


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The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina: A Novel By Zoraida Córdova Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781982102548
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Atria Books - September 7th, 2021

A family saga full of curious magic and delectable prose.  Moving backwards and forwards in time, Córdova's novel slowly uncovers the story of one family, the strange world they live in, and the even stranger woman at the family's head.  Absolutely dazzling — I savored every moment.  — Leo


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Red X: A Novel By David Demchuk Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9780771025013
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Strange Light - August 31st, 2021

One of two my two horror picks, this one is very different from Revelator.  It teeters back and forth between the real and the fantastical, blending discussions of the role of queerness in horror with the supernatural disappearances of gay men in Toronto.  It's a blend of memoir and fiction that makes the imaginary horror seem simultaneously both more vivid and paler in comparison to reality.  I highly recommend the audio version, as author David Demchuk reads the memoir portions himself.  — Caitlin


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The Beatryce Prophecy By Kate DiCamillo, Sophie Blackall (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Kate DiCamillo, Sophie Blackall (Illustrator)
$19.99
ISBN: 9781536213614
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Candlewick - September 28th, 2021

I love a good family read aloud and think that this one really worked so well.  A great bit of storytelling that has it all, magic, feminism, bravery and a goat!  The beautiful illustrations throughout by Sophie Blackall, really tie it all together as a story to be shared and cherished.  — Rachel


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The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell By Brian Evenson Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781566896115
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Published: Coffee House Press - August 3rd, 2021

A short story collection where every story is sharp, clear as crystal, and filled with incredible, sci-fi tinged horror. Evenson is unflinching. I can't believe I haven't read him until now.  — Stefen


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It Fell from the Sky By Terry Fan, Eric Fan, Terry Fan (Illustrator), Eric Fan (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Terry Fan, Eric Fan, Terry Fan (Illustrator), Eric Fan (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781534457621
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - September 28th, 2021

The Fan Brothers, once again, bring us fantastic attention to detail in this story about a spider turning a marble into a circus attraction for the other bugs of the land.  The brilliance of what a new a foreign object must look like to the tiny creatures of the world shines through in these mostly monochromatic but also brightly colored illustrations.  This is a nice little reminder of the tried and true idioms: 1) Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.  2) If, at first, you don't succeed, then try, try again.  3)  Give people their money's worth.  — LC


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We All Play By Julie Flett, Julie Flett (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Julie Flett, Julie Flett (Illustrator)
$17.95
ISBN: 9781771646079
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Greystone Kids - May 25th, 2021

I loved the simple but animated illustrations from Cree-Metis author/illustrator Julie Flett’s We All Play.  With just a few words per page, the animals and children come to life, leaping, nudging, sniffing and slithering.  The simplicity of this book is so charming with a focus on interconnectedness with nature.  Flett includes words from the Cree language throughout the text with an added glossary of Cree and English names for the animals!  — Rachel


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Strange Beasts of China By Yan Ge, Jeremy Tiang (Translated by) Cover Image
By Yan Ge, Jeremy Tiang (Translated by)
$25.99
ISBN: 9781612199092
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Melville House - July 13th, 2021

Yan Ge creates a hypnotic, dreamy atmosphere in a fascinating look at fictional creatures filled to the brim with down-to-earth emotions.  — Justin


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Revelator: A novel By Daryl Gregory Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780525657385
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf - August 31st, 2021

I love weird, atmospheric horror, and this one delivers from the start.  Set in the backwoods of Appalachia, the historic setting has all the tropes you'd expect--moonshiners, clannish families, remote mountain valleys, hard-knock lives--but there are also secrets you don't see coming.  It's part monster mystery, part cult story, part family drama, and all twisty, engrossing, fascinating horror.  — Caitlin


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The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again By M. John Harrison Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780575096363
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Gollancz - December 28th, 2021

This was my most anticipated book of the year, and it did not disappoint.  As beguiling as anything he's ever written, filled with quick slashes of the utterly weird, this book managed a slow-burn approach to the end of the (current) world.  — Stefen


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The Last Cuentista By Donna Barba Higuera Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9781646140893
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Levine Querido - October 12th, 2021

This book is a marvel to me.  A smartly written middle grade/young YA book about storytelling that weaves a beautiful web.  The book opens with Halley’s Comet on it’s way towards Earth and a select group of people being sent off to a faraway colony on the planet Sagan.  Great science fiction with nefarious enemies trying to destroy any ties to Earth and a running theme of story telling, cultural heritage and what it is to be human.  I would highly recommend this to thoughtful young readers that like a bit more substance with their science fiction.  — Rachel


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There's a Ghost In This House By Oliver Jeffers Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780593466186
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Philomel Books - November 2nd, 2021

I sent this to my five year old nephew and it has become one his favorite books!  He loves the silly ghosts and transparent pages that make the story interactive.  — Sam


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Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion By Stephen W. Martin, Dan Tavis (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Stephen W. Martin, Dan Tavis (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9781534441453
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - November 2nd, 2021

I'm a sucker for cute furry creatures (thus the menagerie I live with at home!) but Fluffy McWhiskers takes it to a whole other level.  There's a vaguely disconcerting note to the premise: a cat so cute that all the other animals who see her explode into puffs of color.  Is this a metaphorical explosion?  One hopes so, but the story doesn't linger on the logistics, only that Fluffy's cuteness prevents her from finding friends...until she meets someone just as cute as she is.  It's a nice change from the ugly duckling story--in this case, the duckling isn't ugly, just too cute for words.  — Caitlin


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One Last Stop By Casey McQuiston Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781250244499
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - June 1st, 2021

A sapphic contemporary romance that is part mystery, part time travel, and part found family, what’s not to love?  One Last Stop is an achingly beautiful representation of queer love, both romantic and platonic.  — Macsen


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Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism By Amanda Montell Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062993151
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Wave - June 15th, 2021

I'll admit, I've read a great deal about cults but this book is without a doubt my favorite.  It will change the way you view not only those terrifying (and fascinating) classic cults but also parts of your daily life that may be a little cultish.  It covers everything from Scientology to CrossFit.  — Sam


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Bewilderment: A Novel By Richard Powers Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780393881141
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - September 21st, 2021

Overstory was such an impressive book, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Power’s latest book, Bewilderment.  About a father and son, this book is part eco fiction, part political commentary, and a heartbreaking story - a little bit of all of the things that Powers excels at.  A thoughtful and quiet read but urgent contemplation of where we are at right now.  — Rachel


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Feelings: A Story in Seasons By Manjit Thapp Cover Image
$21.99
ISBN: 9780593129753
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Random House - March 2nd, 2021

Feelings is undeniably one of my most personally impactful reads of the year.  Far from my preferred style of graphic novels, it is a short but brutally honest retelling of mental illness.  Thapp has created an ode to the fluid nature of life in the best way possible.  — Macsen


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Fox: A Circle of Life Story By Isabel Thomas, Daniel Egnéus (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Isabel Thomas, Daniel Egnéus (Illustrator)
$18.99
ISBN: 9781547606924
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Bloomsbury Children's Books - November 30th, 2021

Thomas walks the reader gently through the expected and unexpected turns life takes while illustrator Engeus knows just which color and line to use in order to bring the emotion and concept across in each page.  A true walk through life, I've never felt as complete with a circle of life story as I do with Fox.  — LC


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The Past Is Red By Catherynne M. Valente Cover Image
$20.99
ISBN: 9781250301130
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Tordotcom - July 20th, 2021

This is the most hopeful post-apocalyptic story I've ever read.  The world is flooded and Tetley Abednego has spent her life on the great floating heap of trash called Garbagetown that's all that is left of the world that was.  Most of her fellow citizens of Garbagetown any are bitter and searching for something better, even at the cost of what they've managed to create for themselves at present.  Tetley, on the other hand, maintains a clear-eyed understanding of the world as it is, but still manages to find in it such beauty and hope that her narrative remains doggedly uplifting despite hardship after hardship.  A brief, sweet little novel about finding the best in everything.  — Caitlin


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Wishes By Muon Thi Van, Victo Ngai (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Muon Thi Van, Victo Ngai (Illustrator)
$18.99
ISBN: 9781338305890
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Orchard Books - May 4th, 2021

The emotional experience that a displaced refugee must feel is portrayed beautifully and with poetic grace.  Terrific detail to the connection of word and illustration style suck the reader right into this experience that the author had while growing up.  — LC


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Alone in Space: A Collection By Tillie Walden Cover Image
$32.95
ISBN: 9781910395585
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Avery Hill Publishing - July 6th, 2021

Walden certainly did not disappoint with this collection of graphic stories. A beautiful mix of short stories, school assignments, and web comics.  Alone in Space is somehow both heart wrenching, and delightfully fanciful.  — Macsen


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The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni By Helene Wecker Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9780062468710
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Harper - June 8th, 2021

The long wait for the follow up to The Golem and the Jinni was worth it. Enchanting magical realism and mythological fantasy with the fascinating historical background of 1900's New York.  — Justin


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The Book of Accidents: A Novel By Chuck Wendig Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9780399182136
Availability: Ships Today - Not Currently In-Store
Published: Del Rey - July 20th, 2021

A masterful blend of thriller, fantasy, and cosmic horror. This book had me at the edge of my seat the whole way.  — Justin


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Nightbitch: A Novel By Rachel Yoder Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780385546812
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Doubleday - July 20th, 2021

This book came to me as a recommendation from a fellow parent and artist and I am so glad!  Rachel Yoder's book is about a mother and artist, in the depths of raising a small child, that believes she is turning into a dog.  It is darkly funny and weird, an exploration of art, mothering and embracing all of it where you are.  At the same time, Yoder satirically examines societal norms put on motherhood and those mothers put on themselves.  As a mother and artist myself, I found this deeply relatable and found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all.  — Rachel


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Iron Widow By Xiran Jay Zhao Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780735269934
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Teen Canada - September 21st, 2021

Zhao takes no prisoners with their absolute explosion of a debut novel.  This book is literally everything a YA fantasy fan could hope for: we've got a revenge plot, giant monsters v. mecha soldiers, a thoroughly terrifying protagonist, and absolutely stunning imagery from East Asian legend and history.  One of those books you will not want to put down.  — Leo