The Top Ten Books I Read in 2021
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The end of 2021 is quickly approaching, which means it’s time for all the TOP TEN lists!
This post is compiled of my personal favorites read within 2021. These books could be published any year (not just 2021). Some have been on my TBR for a long time, others were recommended within our Facebook group or on Instagram, and some were published recently! But the one thing they all have in common? They were each a favorite read from this year!
Have a list of your top ten favorites? Drop them in the comments or share them in one of our 52 Book Club groups!
1. From the Ashes — Jesses Thistle
This was my very first read of 2021, and what a way to start the year! From the Ashes is a heavy and heartbreaking read but one that opened my eyes in many ways. This was a book that I could not stop thinking about all year. It has a well-deserved spot on this top ten list.
From the publisher: From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.
In this heartwarming and heart-wrenching memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful past, the abuse he endured, and how he uncovered the truth about his parents. Through sheer perseverance and education—and newfound love—he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family.
An eloquent exploration of the impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help us find happiness despite the odds.
2. The Girl in His Shadow — Audrey Blake
From the very first chapter of this book, I knew it was going to be a five-star read. My bookworm senses were tingling and they did not let me down! Immaculately researched and so incredibly set, The Girl in His Shadow has all the things I look for in a historical novel. With its gorgeous writing and well-rounded characters, I gushed about this read all year. (You can find my full review here!)
And the icing on an already beautiful cake? There’s a sequel on its way for 2022!
From the publisher: The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her.
Raised by the eccentric surgeon Dr. Horace Croft after losing her parents to a deadly pandemic, the orphan Nora Beady knows little about conventional life. While other young ladies were raised to busy themselves with needlework and watercolors, Nora was trained to perfect her suturing and anatomical illustrations of dissections.
Women face dire consequences if caught practicing medicine, but in Croft’s private clinic Nora is his most trusted–and secret–assistant. That is until the new surgical resident Dr. Daniel Gibson arrives. Dr. Gibson has no idea that Horace’s bright and quiet young ward is a surgeon more qualified and ingenuitive than even himself. In order to protect Dr. Croft and his practice from scandal and collapse Nora must learn to play a new and uncomfortable role–that of a proper young lady.
3. The Paris Apartment — Kelly Bowen
The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen was one of my top reads from early on in the year. I hadn’t even finished reading it before I’d texted one of my reading buddies, telling her she had to go grab a copy! (She immediately bought it and loved it too.)
The story flashes back and forth between two separate timelines: 2017, when Aurelia Leclaire inherits a surprise Parisian apartment from her grandmother, and 1942, when glamorous Estelle Allard works to protect those she loves from the forces occupying her beautiful city. Full of art, courage, and sacrifice, this is a must-read for fans of the genre!
From the publisher: This heart-wrenching novel about family and war unearths generations of secrets and sacrifices—perfect for fans of The Paris Orphan and The Lost Girls of Paris.
4. The Other Bennet Sister — Janice Hadlow
Calling all Jane Austen fans! (Or those looking for a Jane Austen-inspired read for the 2022 challenge…) The Other Bennet Sister follows the story of Mary, the bookish and awkward sister from the novel Pride and Prejudice. This re-telling of a classic is beautifully written and so well set. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Mary Bennet and this new life imagined for her.
From the publisher: What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.
Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.
5. My Lady Jane — Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
One of my most surprising favorites from this year? My Lady Jane.
This was my pick for the 2021 prompt “an alternate history novel.” I went into it knowing absolutely nothing. (Sorry… wait, what? There’s a man who turns into a horse every day?!?) And I loved it! Witty, charming, and with all the sorts of characters I wanted to root for, I gobbled this one up in a day!
From the publisher: Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…
Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…
Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.
The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?
6. Finlay Donovan is Killing It — Elle Cosimano
Bookstagram made me do it! Finlay Donovan is Killing It was definitely one of those “everyone is reading it and I don’t want to miss out” sort of picks. And honestly? The hype was real. This was such an entertaining read that gave me all the Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money) vibes. Funny and bumbling and chaotic, I didn’t want this one to end!
From the publisher: When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.
Fast-paced, deliciously witty, and wholeheartedly authentic in depicting the frustrations and triumphs of motherhood in all its messiness, hilarity, and heartfelt moment, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is the first in a brilliant new series from YA Edgar Award nominee Elle Cosimano.
7. Yellow Wife — Sadeqa Johnson
Oh, my heart. This is a book that still hurts to think about. I had to read it over several weeks because it was so raw and real and heavy — but also, absolutely worth the emotion. This was a very intense read but also a powerful and important one. As a huge fan of historical fiction in general, Yellow Wife was a beautifully written saga and a definite must-read.
From the publisher: In the tradition of Wench and Twelve Years a Slave, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.
Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Brown was promised her freedom on her eighteenth birthday. But when her birthday finally comes around, instead of the idyllic life she was hoping for with her true love, she finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half-Acre, a jail where slaves are broken, tortured, and sold every day. Forced to become the mistress of the brutal man who owns the jail, Pheby faces the ultimate sacrifice to protect her heart in this powerful, thrilling story of one slave’s fight for freedom.
8. Things We Didn’t Say — Amy Lynn Green
This epistolary is a beautiful and easy-to-read collection of letters and newspaper articles. The dialogue is witty and full of heart, and the characters are lovable and wonderfully flawed. Things We Didn’t Say completely changed my opinion on epistolary style novels — for the better!
About the book: Headstrong Johanna Berglund is a linguistics student at the University of Minnesota. But her very definite plans for the future are disrupted. Soon, Johanna finds herself back home working as a translator for the German POWs. But her work in the camp lands her on the receiving end of this no longer sure who she can trust.
9. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill — Abbi Waxman
This was another book I read right at the beginning of the year (my second book of 2021, actually) and it gave me all the feels. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill came so highly recommended from The 52 Book Club members in 2020, that I knew I just had to give it a shot. So, I wasn’t surprised when I loved it so much. You all never steer me wrong!
From the publisher: The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.
When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?
It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.
10. An Unwanted Guest — Shari Lapena
I chose this book from the library because of the little maple leaf the librarians had fixed to the spine. (What can I say, I love reading Canadian authors!) I enjoyed it so much I immediately headed out to grab another one of her books, Someone We Know.
There are a couple of books on this top ten list that I read in a day (a sure sign for me that it is an excellent book) and An Unwanted Guest was one of those! This locked-room mystery set in a wintery inn, gave me all the Agatha Christie vibes. The twists were big and surprising, making this my favorite thrilling read of the year.
From the publisher: It’s winter in the Catskills and Mitchell’s Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing–maybe even romantic–weekend away. So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity–and all contact with the outside world–the guests settle in and try to make the best of it. Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead–it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic. Within the snowed-in paradise, something–or someone–is picking off the guests one by one. And there’s nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm–and one another.
Have you read any of these books? Did you love them as much as I did? Or do you completely disagree with my recommendations? Either way, I’d love to know!
And don’t forget to share your own TOP TEN in our Facebook group, or on Instagram using #the52bookclub.