As I sit here trying to wrap my brain around 2021, I cannot help but feel grateful. I went through a ton of life changes in a matter of 2 months, and the biggest being I got married to the love of my life a few weeks ago.
When I first started thinking of my book goal last December, I lowered the bar to 80 because I knew I would be busy and probably not read as much. I am proud to say I was WRONG. I read a solid 120 books, and while I DNFed some along the way, I am so pleased with all the choices I made. After many years of reading, I know my habits well, but I am more inclined to stop a book I am not liking. It took me a few years to get to this point, and as my Dad says, “there are too many good books in the world to spend your time forcing yourself to read one you do not like.” I have kept this philosophy in mind big time this year since I did not want to waste the valuable reading time I would have on books that did not speak to me.
If I had to describe 2021‘s reading year in two words, I’d say it was plentiful and fulfilling. I read great literary fiction, devoured my usual favorite historical fiction, and embraced a genre I don’t typically get into…nonfiction, especially at the end of this year. So, I won’t make you wait any longer. Here are my top 5 books of 2021, and some bonus favorites will be listed at the end because who doesn’t love a little bonus content!
The House on the Cerulean Sea
by TJ Klune
Ever since I read this book for The Spines Book Club with Megan Prokott, I cannot stop thinking about how incredible it was. Think Harry Potter meets Mary Poppins with a little LGTBQ+ flair. It all starts with Linus Baker who works for what I would akin to the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter, but he is in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth where he evaluates orphanages for their effectiveness, safety, and overall care of magical children. After years of doing the same thing over and over again, he gets an opportunity to complete a highly classified assignment and take a trip to an oceanside town to evaluate Arthur Parnassus’s home for children. Little does he know not only will he learn a lot about the children, but they will also teach him the importance of love and passion in more ways than one.
I cannot express how much I adored this book. It made me smile SO BIG, laugh out loud, tear up at the kindness and shake my head at those who disregarded the children for being different. It was a beautiful novel and is my top book of the year.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
I really got into romance and romcoms this year, which is no surprise due to the romantic feels I was getting from wedding planning. Emily Henry’s first novel, Beach Read, was a happy combo of a book lover’s delight and cute enemies to lovers romance. Acclaimed romance writer, January Andrews, is in a writing rut, and her book deadline is coming up faster than she can write. When his father passes away and leaves her his Michigan lake home, she packs up and hits the road in hopes of finding some creative expression. But, the universe had other plans and plans her MFA program nemesis and award-winning novelist, Augustus Everett, as her new next-door neighbor. And, as the universe would have it, he is in a writing rut himself. The two decide to strike a deal and decide to write a book in each other’s genre…and all the while, become more than just neighbors writing books by the beach.
I love books about books. So when I heard Emily Henry writes romance novels based on bookish themes…I was sold. I loved how Augustus helped January process all the changes happening in her life, but also how she helped him come out of his harder exterior and into his softer side with a ”happy book”. Their romance was a sweet slow-burn enemies-to-lovers that I completely adored. I cannot wait for Emily’s newest novel to come out in 2022 called Book Lovers, especially after reading this one and The People We Meet On Vacation this year.
Isn’t It Bromantic? by Lyssa Kay Adams
Move over Bromance fans, the Russian FINALLY got his story. Ever since picking up the series in 2020, I have been excitedly awaiting Vlad’s story to come to fruition. And, oh my did Lyssa Kay deliver!! The book club has always assumed the Russian’s wife did not really exist until she shocks them all by appearing at Mack & Liv’s wedding. Elena and Vlad have known each other since they were children in a small Russian town until danger struck and her only way out was marrying Vlad and escaping to America where he played hockey. Vlad always thought he could live with a marriage of convenience…but a one-sided relationship can only be dealt with for so long. So, Vlad joined book club to try and woo his wife.
Vlad sweet Vlad. I literally did not think I could love the Russian more until I read his side of the story. He was always so sensitive and loving even in the earlier books, and it was so fun to fully understand why based on his Russian backstory. He and Elena have their rough patches, but my goodness their romance was heart-warming and relatable compared to some of the other guy’s stories. Also, the bonus characters of The Loners and the neighborhood dog truly made the book even more interesting. Highly recommend this entire series!
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The first and only book of 2021 to make me SOB. Although let’s be honest, Kristin Hannah does that to me every year with her novels. Her latest release launched back in March, and it transformed me back to a time where I had to research the Dust Bowl for a school project. It goes a little like this…in 1921, American morale was at an all-time high following the victories of The Great War. Elsa Wolcott‘s future; however, was not as plentiful. Deemed too old to marry, the spinster life seems her only option until Rafe Martinelli waltzes into her life and changes it forever. Flash forward 12 years and two kids later, Elsa and Rafe are struggling to keep the farm afloat with his parents during the droughts plaguing the Great Plains. Rafe decides to go to California leaving his family to suffer in the dust he left behind and that continues to be kicked up by the unending drought. In order to help her family survive, Elsa starts the journey to California herself with her young children in tow during the middle of one of the darkest times in American history: The Great Depression.
The Four Winds left me broken-hearted when I finished reading it, but do not let that steer you away. Kristin Hannah is a master of writing historical fiction timelines that have so much depth, heart, and human emotion. I fell in love with her writing style when I first picked up The Nightingale in May 2019 and my heart was ripped out again with The Great Alone at the end of 2019. There are so many more of her novels I have not read yet, but I am trying to read more! I loved how this story talked about a time period and event in human history that I had not read about since grade school history class. I even learned new things about the Dust Bowl refugee camps in California and the fair wages rallies and strikes for refugees who struggled to find work in new states. Truly, Kristin Hannah is one of the greatest authors of our generation, and every historical fiction lover should read at least a few of her novels.
Nick by Michael Harris Smith
Once The Great Gatsby’s copyrights went public in 2021, I knew we were about to get some great novels out of the mysterious storylines we never got to hear about from F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. Enter Michael Harris Smith and his early 2021 release, Nick. Yes, it is the backstory of the narrator of The Great Gatsby himself, Nick Carraway. Before Gatsby, Nick‘s story began in the trenches of The Great War. Following the terror, he delays his return home to the Midwest by taking a detour to Paris and eventually, New Orleans. We discover the story behind the narrator of Gatsby‘s tragic end, and also dive deeper into the frenzied world that was following the Great War.
I love The Great Gatsby with all my heart. As one of my favorite classic novels, I knew this book would either make or break the complexity that is Gatsby. Smith did a fantastic job of diving deeper into the post-Great War world through the eyes of a character we did not learn much about in the original novel itself. There was heartbreak, alcohol, romance, and self-discovery, and it all led Nick to the glittering West Egg we all know well. I cannot wait for more novels like this to come in the next year, especially Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor in a few weeks.
Alas, we cannot end without some honorable bonus mentions. Below are some other great novels I read this year across multiple genres. I read these in multiple formats, but I noted if some were best on audio for any audiobook lovers out there.
The Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (EVEN BETTER ON AUDIO)
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (BEST ON AUDIO)
Taste by Stanley Tucci (BEST ON AUDIO)
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
A Gentleman in Moscow (EVEN BETTER ON AUDIO)
2021, oh what a joy you were. You not only gave me happy life moments, but also amazing reading moments. I hope you all had a plentiful, beautiful bookish year, and I cannot wait to see what old and new books I pick up in 2022.