2021 is over? Really?
My mind is still processing that the year is over and we’re launching into 2022. Honestly, this year felt like an extension of 2020 and not at all different. The biggest highlight or change being the vaccine creation and availability, but COVID is still very much a real thing.
This year I only ended up reading 19 non-romance books which is a super low number for me as a reader. Even my romance reads are low. Personally, I think I’m still processing 2020, dealing with past and present trauma and my mental health which has left me preoccupied, fatigued and not always reaching for a book to escape like I usually do. It’s been a rough year.
Still, I wanted to share some of my favorite reads from the year. These are all my 5 star reads with a few 4 stars that I wanted to highlight.
1. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter
Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2020
Genres: YA Retellings & Fairy Tales, YA Romance
"A fast-paced thrill ride of a book. . . it's Batman meets Annie." --Stuart Gibbs, New York Times best-selling author of the Spy School series
"An adventure-filled read with a twisty mystery and spunky friendships. I loved it!" -Melissa de la Cruz, New York times best-selling author of The Descendants series
April didn't mean to start the fire. She wasn't the one who broke the vase. April didn't ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don't understand that April isn't like them. After all, April's mother is coming back for her someday very soon. All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they've ever known is lost to them forever.
This was one of my first 5-stars of the year. I absolutely loved jumping into the world and mystery that Ally Carter dreamed up for us in Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. April, our main character, is such a delight and I loved the crew she found at the Winterborne Home. This one was fast-paced and full of mystery and adventure with a lovable cast of characters. I cannot wait to pick up book 2!
2. Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Published by Flatiron Books on 18 May 2021
Genres: YA Retellings & Fairy Tales, YA Romance
The New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine YA Book Club Pick! Emiko Jean’s Tokyo Ever After is the “refreshing, spot-on” (Booklist, starred review) story of an ordinary Japanese American girl who discovers that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izumi discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity...and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izumi travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izumi soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairy tale, happily ever after?
Look for the sequel, Tokyo Dreaming, in 2022!
My friend actually recommended this book to me after she read and loved it. So naturally I added it my TBR list and then picked it up to read. I checked it out of my local library’s ebook collection and devoured it so fast! It was such a fun read and I loved the fairy-tale twist to it. It was definitely a mix of some of my favorite early 2000s movies like “What a Girl Wants,” “Chasing Liberty” and the movie adaptation of “Princess Diaries.” Even still though it had a flavor all its own and I really loved the characters. The friendships were strong. The mother-daughter relationship was healthy and real. The romance sweet and swoony. The new father-daughter relationship development was authentic. Basically it was all around good!
3. Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert
Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert
Published by HarperCollins on 5 October 2021
Format: ARC eBook
A searing new work of nonfiction from award-winning author Brandy Colbert about the history and legacy of one of the most deadly and destructive acts of racial violence in American history: the Tulsa Race Massacre.
In the early morning of June 1, 1921, a white mob marched across the train tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and into its predominantly Black Greenwood District—a thriving, affluent neighborhood known as America's Black Wall Street. They brought with them firearms, gasoline, and explosives.
In a few short hours, they'd razed thirty-five square blocks to the ground, leaving hundreds dead. The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the most devastating acts of racial violence in US history. But how did it come to pass? What exactly happened? And why are the events unknown to so many of us today?
These are the questions that award-winning author Brandy Colbert seeks to answer in this unflinching nonfiction account of the Tulsa Race Massacre. In examining the tension that was brought to a boil by many factors—white resentment of Black economic and political advancement, the resurgence of white supremacist groups, the tone and perspective of the media, and more—a portrait is drawn of an event singular in its devastation, but not in its kind. It is part of a legacy of white violence that can be traced from our country's earliest days through Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement in the mid–twentieth century, and the fight for justice and accountability Black Americans still face today.
The Tulsa Race Massacre has long failed to fit into the story Americans like to tell themselves about the history of their country. This book, ambitious and intimate in turn, explores the ways in which the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre is the story of America—and by showing us who we are, points to a way forward.
This was a great non-fiction read that I was lucky enough to delve into before it was published. Colbert does an excellent job of creating context, telling this historical story and bringing to life the citizens of Tulsa. This was a piece of history I didn’t know much about and I felt like I got a well-rounded insight into through Colbert’s book. This is definitely one to pick up and check-out!
See my full review here: Black Birds in the Sky.
4. The True Definition of Neva Beane by Christine Kendall
The True Definition of Neva Beane by Christine Kendall
Published by Scholastic Inc. on 15 September 2020
Genres: MG Realistic Fiction
Source: Owned Book
From the author of Riding Chance comes the story of a girl whose dictionary is helping make sense of the world, her changing body, friendships, and a family that's struggling to stay strong amidst the turbulent backdrop of activism, across generations.
Being twelve isn't easy, especially when you're Neva Beane. Neva feels beautiful wearing her new bra, but she's confused by how others respond to the changes taking place in and out of her body. Her best friend, Jamila, is getting all the attention. Her brother, Clayton, is becoming an activist. And Mom and Dad are gone working-again. Grandad and Nana aren't much help, either, with their old ways and backward views.Neva struggles to find her place in a world that, like the political landscape that's always shifting around her in her West Philadelphia neighborhood, is uncertain, at times scary, but most always, filled with unanswered questions. Neva is left with what comforts her most-words and their meanings, which she chronicles herself. While the pages of her beloved dictionary reveal truths about what's happening around her, Neva must discover the best way to define herself. In this wholly original story by the author of the NAACP Image Award nominee Riding Chance, a girl finds her voice in unexpected ways.
Neva was a true gem of a character to get to know in this one. I loved falling back into the world of a twelve-year-old girl and instantly went back to when I was that young. Kendall does a wonderful job of bringing that time period and those insecurities and struggles to life through Neva. I loved watching her navigate growing into a young woman. Kendall really brings the relationships to life in this one and I loved seeing how Neva’s grandmother, best friend and mom all interacted with and allowed Neva to grow through this story. Overall, a great read for a middle school girl or an adult/child buddy read!
5. Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price
Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price
Published by HarperCollins on 6 April 2021
Genres: YA Mystery, YA Retellings & Fairy Tales, YA Romance
Source: Owned Book
One of BuzzFeed's best YA books of 2021!
Perfect for fans of the Lady Janies and Stalking Jack the Ripper, the first book in the Jane Austen Murder Mysteries trilogy is a clever retelling of Pride and Prejudice that reimagines the iconic settings, characters, and romances in a thrilling and high-stakes whodunit.
When a scandalous murder shocks London high society, seventeen-year-old aspiring lawyer Lizzie Bennet seizes the opportunity to prove herself, despite the interference of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the stern young heir to the prestigious firm Pemberley Associates.
Convinced the authorities have imprisoned the wrong person, Lizzie vows to solve the murder on her own. But as the case—and her feelings for Darcy—become more complicated, Lizzie discovers that her dream job could make her happy, but it might also get her killed.
Three of Jane Austen’s classic novels receive a murder mystery makeover in this romantic and thrilling three-book series that’s perfect for fans of The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.
Pride and Premeditation is followed by Sense and Second-Degree Murder, in which aspiring scientist Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne, a budding detective, work together to solve the mystery of their father’s murder.
I really enjoyed this twist on Pride and Prejudice. Being a True Crime and Mystery fan, I was excited to dig into this murder-themed retelling. I found the story a bit slow in some parts, but overall still a great read. I enjoyed the law setting and seeing Lizzie outwit all the men like usual, but I also enjoyed how she and Darcy pitted their wits against each other. I think I could see original Lizzie as an investigator / lawyer, too. Overall another favorite retelling of this classic novel. Definitely check it out if you’re a P & P fan!
6. Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales by Soman Chainani
Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani
Published by HarperCollins on 21 September 2021
Genres: MG Horror, MG Magical Realism, MG Retellings & Fairy Tales
Format: ARC eBook
You think you know these stories, don’t you?
You are wrong.
You don’t know them at all.
Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that free hearts long kept tame, truths that explore life . . . and death.
A prince has a surprising awakening . . .
A beauty fights like a beast . . .
A boy refuses to become prey . . .
A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again.
New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare.
Going into this book I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I found was definitely a well written collection of tales that left me digesting and thinking and reflecting days later on what I had read. The stories all tackle classic fairy-tales, but in new and interesting ways. They’re definitely not the “Disney-fied” tales were used to. Stories include diverse rep, feminist threads and a bit of darker/more realistic outcomes. Overall I enjoyed these stories and think this is one collection of stories everyone should check-out.
For my full review check it out here: Beasts and Beauty.
7. Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing USA on 14 September 2021
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: ARC eBook
Instant New York Times Bestseller! From New York Times bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer comes a blockbuster fantasy series, perfect for fans of Holly Black and Victoria Aveyard, about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.
Apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her people die. King Harristan and his cruel brother, Prince Corrick, ignore the suffering of their people and react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion, even as a sickness ravages the land. That's why she and her best friend Wes risk their lives each night to steal the petals of the delicate Moonflower, the only known cure. But it's not enough to keep everyone she loves safe-or alive.
When Prince Corrick commits an act of unspeakable cruelty, Tessa becomes desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds there makes her wonder if it's even possible to fix their world without destroying it first.
Brigid Kemmerer's captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future.
I finished this one late into the year, almost before the holidays and New Year. I had started it and then put it down and when I finally picked it back up again I read straight through. I’m a bit biased in my love for Kemmerer’s work, but this one was really good I swear! I loved the world building, the political intrigue, the romance (without it being the full storyline) & the frankness (or maybe maturity) of the situation happening in Kandala and this fantasy world. It definitely had elements of Robin Hood and Zoro, but it was its own adventure for sure. The pacing was a bit slow in some parts, but like I said I read it straight through when I picked it up again. Overall, definitely one to pick up for sure!
8. The Sun Will Come Out by Joanne Levy
The Sun Will Come Out by Joanne Levy
Published by Orca Book Publishers on 13 April 2021
Genres: MG Realistic Fiction
The Sun Will Come Out is a funny and heartwarming account of a shy girl's first summer away from home, where she learns she really can do anything and that silver linings can be found just about anywhere.
Twelve-year-old Bea Gelman and her best friend Frankie are planning the BEST SUMMER EVER at Camp Shalom--a sleep-away camp. But at the last minute, Frankie bows out, leaving painfully shy Bea on her own. Just talking to strangers causes Bea to break out into ugly, blotchy hives. As if the hives weren't bad enough, Bea gets pranked by a couple of girls in her cabin and is betrayed by someone she thought was a new friend. Bea has had enough! She decides to spend her summer in the infirmary far away from everything that's stressing her out. No more boys (including her crush, Jeremy), no more horrible mean girls, and no more fake friends! At the infirmary, Bea meets Harry, a boy facing challenges way more intense than stress breakouts. Inspired by Harry's strength and positive outlook, Bea decides to face her fears--in a big way.
I read this book mainly over one night and really ended up loving it. It was such a sweet story about finding courage & facing your problems. I saw a lot of my younger self in the main character and even felt a little triggered by the bullying even if it was small scale bullying. Anyway, this book was easy to read and touched on friendship, growing pains, finding courage & bravery within yourself and facing hard topics or hard things like being away from your family for the first time. I really enjoyed that the Bea was Jewish as I haven’t read many Jewish MC that weren’t historical fiction. It was nice seeing that religious culture in a modern setting. Definitely pick up this sweet Middle Grade fiction book!
I hope you enjoyed my 2021 favorites! Be sure to drop yours below or any thoughts you have about my list 🙂