Top 10 Books of 2021

Business Books

This was a good year for me professionally, and while I must have read more management books this year than I ever have since business school, these are the ones I found most useful.

1. The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou

Straightforward, accessible, and entertaining, I highly recommend this book for any first-time managers. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, featuring anthropomorphic animals navigating various management situations, are particularly helpful, and have earned this a permanent spot on my shelves.

2. Getting Past No by William Ury

Probably a classic by now, this was recommended to me by a lawyer friend, and I found it super helpful. I like how broadly applicable the content is — Ury doesn’t focus on how to get the best business deal, nor on how to build long-term business relationships. Rather, he crafts a modern-day Art of War, with strategies and tactics that can be used in everything from negotiating business deals to navigating everyday conversations.

Romances

3. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

I’ve gushed about this book before, and I’ll continue gushing about it for years to come. Now optioned for film by Mindy Kaling, this laugh-out-loud-hilarious rom com has lots of heart, incredible side characters, and loads of biryani poutine. Its central romance — You’ve Got Mail with competing halal restaurants in Scarborough — sparkles with wit and charm, yet it’s the entirety of Hana’s world that’ll draw you right in. (Full review)

4. Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Opposites attract happens to be one of my favourite romance tropes, and Cade and Selena will have you falling in love from their very first meet-cute. The romance is sexy and feel-good, and I absolutely love how central consent is to their relationship. Personal highlight: Selena convinces a reluctant Cade to take a motorcycle ride with her, and then takes the time to teach Cade non-verbal signals to let her, as the driver, know whether to slow down or speed up. It’s a simple metaphor that carries beautifully into the bedroom, and other aspects of their relationship, and I was just falling in love right alongside them the entire time. (Full review)

5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (BBC Audio adaptation with Felicity Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Tennant)

The story itself is all right, but the voice acting is phenomenal! Listening to Benedict Cumberbatch flirt Austen-style made my walks especially fun, and kicked off a months-long interest in borrowing as many BBC Audio adaptations as I could from my library. A quick note that this is an abridged radio play rather than the full audiobook. I personally liked that it was only 2.5 hours long, as it was the perfect length for a walk and a couple of errands, and, well, Benedict Cumberbatch. But heads up if it’s the full Austen novel you want.

Mysteries

6. The Red Palace by June Hur

A palace nurse and a police inspector team up to solve a series of murders in 1758 Joseon. The mystery is compelling, the romance light and absolutely adorable, and the glimpse into Korean history super fascinating. I hadn’t known of Crown Prince Sado until this book, and reading up on the history gave the events in the story so much more meaning.

7. Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

I love cozy mysteries, cooking, and contemporary Filipino stories, so this book was very much an immediate buy for me. The series lead and the mystery itself are just all right, but the food descriptions are mouthwateringly delicious, and the sexy, super sweet men vying for Lila’s heart make me long for a Netflix adaptation! I also love how steeped the story is in Filipino details, from the group of titas (aunties) to the barrel men figurines in Tita Rosie’s kitchen. One personal snag: we definitely need more of Lila’s dog Longganisa in these stories!

8. The Time for Murder is Meow by T.C. LoTiempo

I love cats, so any mystery that features them (fortunately there are a lot within the cozy genre) immediately catches my eye. This book won my heart partly because of how well it developed its animal characters: Purrday and Kahlua are vivid characters in their own right, and the stuff they do is hilariously relatable. Even better though is that the human characters are also super compelling: I love Shell and Gary, with their complicated backstory and reluctant teamwork, and I can’t wait for more of their adventures! (Full review)

Thrillers

9. Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

We all know Asian aunties are awesome, but would yours cover up a(n accidental) murder for you? More madcap comedy than nail-biting thriller, this was an absolute delight, from page one all the way to the very end. It’s absolutely, ridiculously absurd, so leave your disbelief at the door, and turn yourself over completely to enjoying the ride. More importantly, beyond the humour, this novel is also very much full of heart. Meddy Chan and her aunties are all ride-or-die for each other, and as odd as it may be to think about a book with a murderous cover-up, this is a really sweet and heartwarming family novel. (Full review)

10. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

It’s hard to make a Jane Eyre retelling stand out, but with this book, Hawkins succeeds in creating a truly contemporary thriller that stands on its own while still managing to incorporate multiple shout-outs to the original. This re-telling leans into the class divide amongst the characters, setting the tale in a wealthy gated community where residents “slum it” in a coffeeshop mere blocks away, but clutch their pearls when they see Jane taking their dogs so far from home. Both Jane and Bea (nee Bertha) are clever, calculating schemers, and Eddie (Rochester) is a worthy opponent, with a subtle but definite undertone of darkness beneath his genteel demeanour. It’s sheer fun watching the players as they circle each other’s orbits, and plot out their next moves.

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