In terms of my reading life, 2021 felt like the infamous Thunder Mountain ride at Walt Disney World.
It was full of slow, agonizing ups; quick descents; and plenty of twists and turns along the way.
I’d experience a few incredible books back to back, then slog through titles that discouraged me from reading anything. And of course, I’m going to share them all with you here so you know what books to pick up and what to leave behind!
5-Star Reads of 2021
Out of 52 titles, seven of them were 5-star quality (two more than last year!).
For a 5-star rating, the story needs to be one I can’t put down OR the scenes and experiences should move me emotionally—so much so that I’m thinking about the book long after the final page.
I will recommend these books to anyone who will listen!
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
This was my first Riley Sager book and will not be my last. After I consumed the final page, I promptly opened my Goodreads app and added every book he’s written so far to my TBR list. He’s now a must-read for life!
In the story, three campers disappear one summer night, but their bunkmate Emma, doesn’t know what happened to them. Fifteen years later when she’s invited back as camp staff, she secretly starts her own investigation, but it seems someone is out to make sure she receives the blame.
I read this thriller in November, but would recommend you read it as a summer pick. It’s filled with creepy summer camp vibes! I simultaneously wanted to turn the pages as fast as possible and also savor the descriptive writing.
TW: Some language
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan
Dual timelines can be hit or miss, but this was definitely a hit for me.
If you pick this one up, you’ll meet Everly, a history professor who grew up hearing bedtime stories about the Pulaski, a luxury steamboat dubbed the “Titanic of the South”. 180 years after it disappeared, when divers discover the shipwreck’s remains off the coast of North Carolina, an old friend asks Everly to guest-curate an interactive museum exhibit featuring artifacts from the discovery.
But her quest to find out what happened in the past reveals shocking details about her present.
If you love a perfect blend of fact and fiction as well as accounts of strong women who overcome the odds, this captivating tale will hold your attention from beginning to end. Warning: one might have a strong desire to Google everything about the Pulaski shipwreck afterwards.
TW: Some language, intimacy references
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
I’ve read a good number of WWII novels, so unique storylines from this era are hard to find. But The Paris Library over delivers on so many fronts. Oh, how I wanted to savor this book!
Gorgeous cover aside, this fictional retelling follows a group of brave librarians who defied the Nazis in order to serve their loyal subscribers… including their Jewish ones. Through a dual storyline, we witness how Odile navigates family, friendships, and romance during the war and later on, through the eyes of Lily, a young girl who befriends Odile in her older years.
As an avid bookworm, I adored the sprinkling of bookish quotes and nods to the Dewey Decimal System. But what I appreciated most (and find lacking in WWII novels) is the slow fade into the German takeover. Jews were not thrown into camps right away. The restrictions started small. The library first had to pull certain books from their shelves. Then they couldn’t allow their Jewish subscribers to come inside anymore.
The Nazi regulations become stronger and more limiting the longer you read, which reminds us that tyranny doesn’t always start with an iron fist.
TW: Sexual content, some language
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This unforgettable true story will stay in my heart forever. I read it on Kindle first, then found the paperback at a thrift store and had to add it to my collection. I am quite the minimalist, so buying a hard copy of a book really says something! After all, my Bookstagram account is @theunclutteredbookshelf. 😂
Just Mercy introduces us to Bryan Stevenson, a recent law school graduate, starts the Equal Justice Initiative to free convicts who have been unjustly put on death row. When Bryan reviews one case in particular, he makes a startling discovery. Walter McMillion is innocent. And the people who put him behind bars are not going to make it easy for him to get out.
As you read this title, you will be angry. The injustice done to individuals with mental disabilities is horrifying. And when you’re presented the same evidence Bryan has on Walter McMillion, you too, will wish you could join his fight.
I don’t know that one book has the power to change our justice system, but if it could, I’m placing my bets on Just Mercy. This is a MUST-READ for everyone.
TW: Racism, sexual assault, executions, language
True Colors by Kristin Hannah
If you see me crying with a book in hand, it’s probably written by Kristin Hannah. I have to space her books throughout the year because going in is always an emotional investment. But they are so so good!
In True Colors, you’ll meet three sisters who live with their father on a Washington ranch. Fans of the show Heartland will love this setting (and the family drama that comes with it). You’ll experience jealousy over the same boy. Surprise over a conviction. Loneliness over lost love. Eventually, you’ll root for the man you thought had no business joining this close-knit family.
This quote sums up the entirety of the book:
“…it wasn’t property lines or markers on a man’s land that outlined the boundaries of a home. It was who you were that mattered, how you stayed together in hard times, the people you held in your heart.”
TW: Sexual content and language
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Just like Riley Sager, I immediately added this author’s backlist titles to my TBR list. The Turn of the Key is another thriller I could not read fast enough!
What happens when a young woman, desperate for a job, takes a live-in nanny position inside a “haunted” smart house? Exactly what you might think—especially since the family has already been through four nannies in less than a year. Either the house is out to get her… or someone else is.
Between the creaking floors, secret attics, and random lights turning on and off, you may or may not want to read this at night. Prepare for goosebumps from beginning to end!
TW: Death of a child, sexual content, language
Hooked by Sutton Foster
This year I finally discovered how to love audiobooks—by listening to a memoir on Audible! (You can try it for free here!) I’d rather read fictional stories and other non-fiction in written form, but I LOVE hearing about an author from the author. My first 5-star listen was Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life by Sutton Foster.
To be honest, I had no idea who Sutton Foster was prior to listening. But the title spoke to me. During the pandemic, I taught myself how to crochet as a way to relieve all the anxiety I felt from watching the news.
This talented Broadway turned TV star shares stories of her life through the lens of what she was crafting at that time. And of course, we get an inside look into all the life lessons she learned along the way.
I adored Sutton’s story so much that I’m now bingeing Younger, the series she starred in for seven seasons!
4-Star Reads of 2020
- The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore
- The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
- Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
- Delirium by Lauren Oliver
- Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks
- The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
- Fable by Adrienne Young
- Namesake by Adrienne Young
- The Things We Do For Love by Kristin Hannah
- The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
- Ten Words To Live By by Jen Wilkin
- The Last Green Valley by Mark T. Sullivan
- Hunted by Meagan Spooner
- Blackout by Candace Owens
- Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst
- The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
- The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
- Traitor’s Masque by Kenley Davidson
- An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Becoming Us by Robin Jones Gunn
- Being Known by Robin Jones Gunn
- Safe to Feel by Phylicia Masonheimer
- Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
3-Star Reads of 2020
- The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
- The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
- Burnout by Emily Nagoski
- Requiem by Lauren Oliver
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
- Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
- A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
- A Secret in the Keys by Hope Holloway
- The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
- In This Moment by Karen Kingsbury
- Lifelong Writing Habit by Chris Fox
- When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin
- Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
- The Last Flight by Julie Clark
- A Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
2-Star Reads of 2020
- The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman
- Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
- Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
- Making Faces by Amy Harmon
This Year’s Abandoned Books
I believe I abandoned more books this year than I ever have before! Like I mentioned earlier, my reading life was a roller coaster in 2021.
- The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd
- Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
- Under a Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake
- The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
- Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
- Greenwood by Michael Christie
- The Guest List by Lucy Foley
- Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald
- Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden
- Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
- The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue
- A Clearing in the Wild by Jane Kirkpatrick
- Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz
- The Reason for God by Timothy J. Keller
- Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
- A Walk Along the Beach by Debbie Macomber
- The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
- What’s Left Unsaid by Emily Bleeker
- The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
If anything, please let this list give you permission to ditch books you’re not into. Life is too short to read boring books. There are so many good ones out there waiting for you!
What was your favorite book from 2021?
Did you struggle with reading this year like I did?
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