Favorite Reads 2021- Part 1: Literary, Historical Fiction, and More

It’s that time of year when I go through my notebook and gather my favorite reads of the year. When I did a quick skim, there were so many fantastic reads that I knew that once again, I would have to break my favorite reads into genres and multiple days. So this will be a 4-day post.

This year, I made a goal to focus more on YA and Fantasy, which is a genre I didn’t start reading until a few years ago, so those genres dominate my list this year. What better week to share my favorites than a holiday week? So let’s get right into it!


Literary Fiction

The Midnight Library, Matt Haig
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N

About the Book:
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Sweet Bean Paste, Durian Sukegawa
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed,
with devastating consequences.

Sweet Bean Paste is a moving novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship. Translated into English for the first time, Durian Sukegawa’s beautiful prose is capturing hearts all over the world.

Ezra Slef: The Next Nobel Laureate in Literature, Andrew Komarnyckyj
Literary and Humor
Amazon
My Review

About the Book:
The pioneering writings of celebrated Russian novelist Ezra Slef have made him a titan of contemporary Postmodernism, with a worldwide following keen to know more about the man behind the books. Enter Humbert Botekin, a disgraced former professor of literature, and Slef’s biggest admirer. He writes the definitive biography of Slef, with compendious notes, an introduction, a list of plates, and a glossary.
But Botekin’s narrative soon spirals dangerously out of control. A supreme egotist, Botekin cannot resist assuming the foreground, so that his ostensible biography of Slef gradually changes into a personal memoir in which we learn far more about the biographer than about his subject. The narrative is both sinister and darkly comic.
Botekin’s secrets include making a Faustian pact with a well-travelled gentleman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Devil–a likeness the self-absorbed Botekin fails to notice, even as his world collapses around him.

Miscellaneous Genres

Branded By a Song, LJ Evans
Romance
Amazon
My Review

About the Book:
Brady O’Neil tells the world he’s returning to upstate New York to help his sister. While it’s the truth, he’s also hoping to rediscover the soul of his music. When he goes to his mentor for help, he finds a woman trapped in the past instead. A woman who makes him want to stay like never before.

Losing her grandmother feels like yet another blow the world has dealt Tristan. Keeping the music store and her daughter afloat is all she can focus on, and Grams’ beloved student sauntering in doesn’t change anything. He’s just another adventure she can’t afford.

When Tristan has to concede that Brady holds the solution to her troubles, she’s determined it won’t mean giving him access to her heart. After all, she buried that bruised organ alongside her husband years ago.

Can Brady convince her that hearts aren’t limited to just one love song?

Inspired by Chris Janson’s “Done,” comes a standalone, single-parent romance about the lyrical, healing power of love with vibrant characters that might just leave a permanent mark on your soul.

The Color of Us, Jessica Park
Contemporary Romance
Amazon
My Review

About the Book:
Callie Evans isn’t exactly living her best life in Los Angeles. She dropped out of college, has been repeatedly fired, and is now literally watching paint dry at a hardware store for a living. This depressing existence isn’t what she had planned for her early twenties, but here she is.

Although she’s faced a shattering trauma, she’s learning that avoiding grief has owned her for far too long. A change of scenery might be what she needs to regroup and move forward.

Callie takes a few months away from her California chaos to handle renovations on her family’s old house in small-town Vermont. This temporary escape could be just the thing to ease the pain that crushed her past and continues to impact her present. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll get a chance to reconnect with a certain boy from her childhood, whom she’s now aching to see again.

When Callie rolls back into her hometown, she finds that her preteen crush, Danny, has turned into a wildly hot twenty-something. The things that haven’t changed are his humor and kindness. But Danny’s hidden demons might possibly be even more painful than her own.

As Callie spends the summer falling in love with cooking, home repairs, and hosting brunches for her quirky neighbors, she also fights falling in actual love with Danny. After all, she knows from experience that love is never guaranteed to last.

Only the summer will tell.

Toufah, Toufah Jallow
Memoir
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Before launching an unprecedented protest movement, Toufah Jallow was just a 19-year-old dreaming of a scholarship.
 
Encouraged by her mother to pursue her own ambitions, Toufah entered a presidential competition purportedly designed to identify the country’s smart young women and support their educational and career goals. Toufah won.
 
Yahya Jammeh, the dictator who had ruled The Gambia all of Toufah’s life, styled himself as a pious yet progressive protector of women. At first he behaved in a fatherly fashion toward Toufah, but then proposed marriage, and she turned him down. On a pretext, his female cousin then lured Toufah to the palace, where he drugged and raped her.
 
Toufah could not tell anyone. There was literally no word for rape in her native language. If she told her parents, they would take action, and incur Jammeh’s wrath. Wearing a niqab to hide her identity, she gave Jammeh’s security operatives the slip and fled to Senegal. Her eventual route to safety in Canada is full of close calls and intrigue.
 
18 months after Jammeh was deposed, Toufah Jallow became the first woman in The Gambia to make a public accusation of rape against him, sparking marches of support and a social media outpouring of shared stories among West African women under #IAmToufah.
 
Each brave and bold decision she made set Toufah on the path to reclaim the personal growth and education that Jammeh had tried to steal from her, a future also of leadership and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, especially in heavily patriarchal countries lacking resources and laws to protect women and even the language with which to speak openly about sexual threats and violence.

Float Plan, Trish Doller
Contemporary
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Heartbroken by the loss of her fiancé, adventurous Anna finds a second chance at love with an Irish sailor in this riveting, emotional romance.

After a reminder goes off for the Caribbean sailing trip Anna was supposed to take with her fiancé, she impulsively goes to sea in the sailboat he left her, intending to complete the voyage alone.

But after a treacherous night’s sail, she realizes she can’t do it by herself and hires Keane, a professional sailor, to help. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned. As romance rises with the tide, they discover that it’s never too late to chart a new course.

In Trish Doller’s unforgettable Float Plan, starting over doesn’t mean letting go of your past, it means making room for your future.

Tell Me How to Be, Neel Patel 
Contemporary, LGBTQ+
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Renu Amin always seemed perfect: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Renu is binge-watching soap operas and simmering with old resentments. She can’t stop wondering if, thirty-five years ago, she chose the wrong life. In Los Angeles, her son, Akash, has everything he ever wanted, but as he tries to kickstart his songwriting career and commit to his boyfriend, he is haunted by the painful memories he fled a decade ago. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash returns to Illinois, hoping to finally say goodbye and move on.

Together, Renu and Akash pack up the house, retreating further into the secrets that stand between them. Renu sends an innocent Facebook message to the man she almost married, sparking an emotional affair that calls into question everything she thought she knew about herself. Akash slips back into bad habits as he confronts his darkest secrets—including what really happened between him and the first boy who broke his heart. When their pasts catch up to them, Renu and Akash must decide between the lives they left behind and the ones they’ve since created, between making each other happy and setting themselves free.

By turns irreverent and tender, filled with the beats of ’90s R&B, Tell Me How to Be is about our earliest betrayals and the cost of reconciliation. But most of all, it is the love story of a mother and son each trying to figure out how to be in the world.

The Passing Storm, Christine Nolfi
Women’s Fiction
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Early into the tempestuous decade of her thirties, Rae Langdon struggles to work through a grief she never anticipated. With her father, Connor, she tends to their Ohio farm, a forty-acre spread that itself has enjoyed better days. As memories sweep through her, some too precious to bear, Rae gives shelter from a brutal winter to a teenager named Quinn Galecki.

Quinn has been thrown out by his parents, a couple too troubled to help steer the misunderstood boy through his own losses. Now Quinn has found a temporary home with the Langdons—and an unexpected kinship, because Rae, Quinn, and Connor share a past and understand one another’s pain. But its depths—and all its revelations and secrets—have yet to come to light. To finally move forward, Rae must confront them and also fight for Quinn, whose parents have other plans in mind for their son.

With forgiveness, love, and the spring thaw, there might be hope for a new season—a second chance Rae believed in her heart was gone forever.

Three Sisters, Heather Morris
Historical Fiction
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Against all odds, three Slovakian sisters have survived years of imprisonment in the most notorious death camp in Nazi Germany: Auschwitz. Livia, Magda, and Cibi have clung together, nearly died from starvation and overwork, and the brutal whims of the guards in this place of horror. But now, the allies are closing in and the sisters have one last hurdle to face: the death march from Auschwitz, as the Nazis try to erase any evidence of the prisoners held there. Due to a last minute stroke of luck, the three of them are able to escape formation and hide in the woods for days before being rescued.

And this is where the story begins. From there, the three sisters travel to Israel, to their new home, but the battle for freedom takes on new forms. Livia, Magda, and Cibi must face the ghosts of their past–and some secrets that they have kept from each other–to find true peace and happiness.

Inspired by a true story, and with events that overlap with those of Lale, Gita, and Cilka, The Three Sisters will hold a place in readers’ hearts and minds as they experience what true courage really is.

Boy Underground, Catherine Ryan Hyde
Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
1941. Steven Katz is the son of prosperous landowners in rural California. Although his parents don’t approve, he’s found true friends in Nick, Suki, and Ollie, sons of field workers. The group is inseparable. But Steven is in turmoil. He’s beginning to acknowledge that his feelings for Nick amount to more than friendship.

When the bombing of Pearl Harbor draws the US into World War II, Suki and his family are forced to leave their home for the internment camp at Manzanar. Ollie enlists in the army and ships out. And Nick must flee. Betrayed by his own father and accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he turns to Steven for help. Hiding Nick in a root cellar on his family’s farm, Steven acts as Nick’s protector and lifeline to the outside world.

As the war escalates, bonds deepen and the fear of being different falls away. But after Nick unexpectedly disappears one day, Steven’s life focus is to find him. On the way, Steven finds a place he belongs and a lesson about love that will last him his lifetime.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
Historical Fiction
Amazon, Bookshop, B&N
My Review

About the Book:
Jacob Janowski’s luck had run out–orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was the Great Depression and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. There he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but brutal animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this group of misfits was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.


Phew, we’ve made it to the end of day 1! Day 2 will be mystery/thrillers, Day 3 will be YA, and Day 4 will be fantasy. I’m so very excited to share with yall my favorite reads in these genres and I hope you’re excited too.

One thought on “Favorite Reads 2021- Part 1: Literary, Historical Fiction, and More

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