Hey guys! It’s that time of year where we take a look back on what happened over the past 12 months. It feels like it’s been an incredibly long year–and also a short one at the same time. And over this past year, I may not have read as much as I used to, but I have also rediscovered my love of reading, in a way. (I used to try to get through books so fast that it killed some of the enjoyment.) But I feel less cynical about them and I think that shows in some of my choices for best books as well as the fact that I rated more as 5 stars than I have in years past.
So without further ado, let’s see what I liked best, yes? In order.
My Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2021
This was one of those free romance novels I found at some point on Amazon and thought, “Eh, that might be interesting.” It starts out super cheesy: Aimee’s in a private plane on her way to Brazil for her destination wedding when the plane goes down in the Amazon rainforest. It’s now up to her and the pilot, Tristan, to try to survive long enough for someone to find them. While I initially rolled my eyes at a lot of it, I was soon sucked into the survival story where Aimee and Tristan are literally fighting for their lives and discovering what–and who–they actually need. It was surprisingly cute and moving.
I know this is the 2nd book in the series and I hate to do that to you guys, but this really was just that good. This series is about two teenage girls, Gabi and Lia, who are in Italy with their archaeologist mother looking at old medieval Italian ruins when they find themselves transported to the 1400s. There’s a ton of action, some romance (it’s clean–this is considered Christian lit, though I don’t really get that), and the writing is just phenomenal. It kept me on the edge of my seat. Knights in shining armor, sword fights, political schemes…what more could you want?
This was my most recent read on this list. I love the mystery, the characters, the writing. I can get into anything Maureen Johnson writes, honestly, but I think Stevie Bell and Truly Devious is some of her best writing yet. And I’m so excited to see that the mysteries are going to continue. (I’m having trouble finding anything officially talking about it, but I know Johnson has hinted on Twitter that she’s working on another.)
Like many of you, I watched Bridgerton last winter and fell in love with Daphne and Simon and the Bridgerton crew. I had to read the books. Imagine my surprise when Anthony, who drove me nuts in the first book, ended up being my favorite in the entire series, along with Kate. They’re so sarcastic and funny that that definitely added to the story–but there’s also a lot of vulnerability between Kate and Anthony, a vulnerability I just never saw to this extent anywhere else in the series and I loved it. I really hope the Netflix series does this book justice because I can’t wait.
I teach a Holocaust unit at school and one thing we do is let kids pick from over a dozen Holocaust books that they want to read. A new one we added to the list this year was this one. I’d heard about it for a while but hadn’t read it. But oh my God, was it heartbreaking. The story’s told by Hanneke, a Dutch girl working on the black market to bring people what they can’t purchase with the Nazi takeover of their country. And then she’s asked by a client to find the Jewish girl who had been hiding in her home–before the police find the girl. In this way, Hanneke is slowly brought into the world of Nazi resistance and sees what’s actually happening to the Jews around her. It’s a mystery wrapped in a historical fiction. And it’s so good.
Of all the books on this list, this is the only one where I feel like putting it at #5 is kind of unfair and that it should be higher, but there’s just stiff competition this year. This standalone contemporary romance with a touch of supernatural is just amazing–and the only contemporary romance that made my top 10. Evie has given up on love, especially now that every time she sees a couple kiss, she can suddenly see how their relationship began–and how it will end in heartbreak. While trying to understand what’s happening to her, she meets X and finds herself roped into doing competitive ballroom dancing with him. It’s such a cute story, but there’s a lot of heartbreak in it as well. It’s so moving. I mean, this could be a yearly reread for me, because it’s just full of life lessons and it’s so easy to read.
I’m a big fan of Greek mythology and last year I really discovered Alexandra Bracken’s writing for myself. Combining the two was sure to be a win. And it was. This standalone urban fantasy is really unique and interesting. It’s like Hunger Games meets Greek mythology, where every 7 years the Greek gods lose their immortality and these families can attack them. If they kill them, the killer gains the god’s powers. Lore wants out of this whole thing, until at the beginning of this Agon, she runs into Castor, her best friend that she thought was dead. Now she’s suddenly sucked back into the world that killed her entire family and she’s out for vengeance. It’s really good and the fact that it’s standalone makes it even more unique.
This really must have been the year for murder mysteries, huh? I just found this book to be so incredible. Five years ago, Andie Bell was murdered. The police closed the case when Sal Singh also turned up dead with a note saying he did it. But Pip doesn’t buy it. She knew Sal, knew him to be kind and caring…this just didn’t fit. She decides to make solving the mystery her senior project and begins uncovering the mystery the town doesn’t want to reexamine. I really loved the way the story was written and how Pip pretty much literally just knocked on doors and read through interview transcripts to find the information she was looking for. It was fun to actually work this case with her.
Some of you may be surprised this is only at #2. It was a phenomenal read–and if you’re a fan of Maas and haven’t read this yet, I highly recommend that you do. Yes, it is adult rather than YA, but let’s be real, ACOTAR was on its way there too, so it’s not much of a jump except these characters have jobs and own their own apartments. But. As much as I loved the second half of this book and was glued to it, the first half was a bit slow and I found Maas’s writing to start to have a certain pattern to it. I pretty much figured out how the story would go and how the characters would be written early on. She’s got a formula now–that works–but it eliminates a lot of the surprise I used to love. Maybe the next book will be better.
Far and away, this was clearly my #1 pick for the year since I read it. It was so much fun! A fantasy that combined all my favorite elements of court intrigue, stubborn princes, a fake socialite trying to outsmart the nobility, and magical abilities. Zera is so much fun in her irreverence as she takes on the palace in an attempt to literally steal Prince Lucien’s heart and regain her own humanity. The world building is great and the characters are just as good. I absolutely loved how tight the writing is, how everything seamlessly fit together. It was so fun and this book deserves so much more recognition than its currently getting.