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Best Books of 2021 (January-June)

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

What have been your favorite books to read in 2021 so far? The Goodreads Choice Awards for 2021 recently began the voting process and while I suggest checking out some of the books on the list, I always recommend having your own list of favorite books.

A few days ago I finished reading Puddin'. In case you didn't know, Puddin' is the second book to Dumplin' and both books are absolute masterpieces. That is beside the point, however.

What is the point is that when I finished reading the book, I immediately texted my sister (who attends Cornell by the way, I'm super proud!) and told her how good the book was. Her response: "does it make the top books list?"

When I saw her response, I honestly didn't know what to respond. It has been so long since I have made a "Top Books List" and I no longer know what is on it. To be honest, I find it can be difficult to create these lists as there are so many different genres I read and often books don't compare to other books in different genres.

So without a "Top Books List" or a way to create an overall list, I decided I would attempt to instead create a list of the books I had most enjoyed in this past year.

There are a few pre-requisites to this list.

  1. 2021 is obviously not over. While I will present a list for the second half of 2021 as well as a list of 2021's best books overall, today's list only covers the books that I enjoyed most from the first half of 2021. That means today's books had to have been read by myself between January 2021 and June 2021.

  2. These books are not previous reads. While Marissa Meyer's book will likely always remain on my "Top Books List" they do not make today's list (despite being read in the first half of 2021) because I have read them before. This list is solely reserved for books I was able to enjoy for the first time.

  3. These books are not required to stand out in any particular way. I'm not looking for the same characteristics in each book. These books may not even be books I would give 5/5 stars. While I did enjoy each of these books as a whole, the main requirement for each of them to be on this list is that they stood out to me in some way or stayed with me even after I put the book down. These are the books I remember reading and that struck me as interesting (good interesting) in some way.

So without further ado, here are the books I would list as my top reads for the first half of 2021 and why they make the list:


Author: Thomas Wheeler (Illustrated by Frank Miller)

Date Published: 1st October 2019

Page Count: 416

Summary: Cursed is a twist on the Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. If you haven't already read a book on the legend (see my recommendations here) I highly recommend doing so because knowing the real tale makes reading the twist even better. Cursed tells the story of Nimue who is charged with keeping the sword of power safe from those who would try to steal it. Along the way, she meets Arthur, learns about her past, and is somewhat forced into being the champion of the fae. If you like fairytale twists, high fantasy, or stories with strong female protagonists, you will enjoy Cursed. When you are done reading it, check out the Netflix series by the same name.

Why it stood out to me: I love fairytale twists so anything that is a twist on a tale doesn't take much to make it to the top of my list. I really loved reading a twist on the Arthurian legend, however, and enjoyed diving deeper into those legends. One of the things I felt like the author did particularly well was capturing the essence of the legends while making it a modern-day young adult novel. The novel was set somewhat in today's world (medieval Europe) but with such a beautifully built level of fantasy intricately woven into it. The author also did an extremely good job of the sword-fight scenes. It honestly felt like a history book. But one you actually want to read! And on top of that, it is a picture book for adults. Frank Miller draws stunning designs that are added to the book for the reader to enjoy here and there which was something I hadn't seen before. Definitely, something to check out if you haven't already!

See the Review Here

Shadow and Bone (series):

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Date Published: Shadow and Bone: 5th June, 2012/Seige and Storm: 4th June, 2013/Ruin and Rising: 17th June, 2014

Page Count: Shadow and Bone: 358/Seige and Storm: 435/Ruin and Rising: 422

Summary: Shadow and Bone is the first of three series in the "Grishaverse," a universe created by Leigh Bardugo which is now being turned into a Netflix original TV series. The books center around a Russian-inspired country divided by "the fold" which is a nightmare to all who enter filled with terrible beasts who thrive in the darkness, killing most of those who attempt passage through the fold. Enter Alina Starkov: a young orphaned girl who accidentally reveals Grisha powers no one has ever seen before that might just be the country's salvation.

Why it stood out to me: I had my doubts. Shadow and Bone is quickly becoming the next Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Divergent, or Hunger Games. It is a book series with a new TV show and everyone (and I mean everyone) loves it and sings its praises. The problem with a series like that: most often the series is overrated. Shadow and Bone, surprisingly is not. I loved the worldbuilding of the series, (Leigh Bardugo clearly planned her butt off and knew what she was talking about) the well-thought-out characters, and the plot. I don't always see what will happen next (Which is impressive when you have read as many books as I have. I tend to be able to predict what the author will do next). It was also a very different world than what I had seen before with a very different culture—still fantasy but interestingly, Russian based. So don't be put off by long hold lines at your local library, check these books out!

See the Review Here

Six of Crows (series):

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Date Published: Six of Crows: 9th September, 2015/Crooked Kingdom: 2016

Page Count: Six of Crows: 465/ Crooked Kingdom: 546

Summary: Six of Crows follows Shadow and Bone in the Grishaverse universe and is a duology. The characters of Six of Crows (Kaz, Jesper, Inej, Nina, and Matthais) are present in the TV show though the books follow a different storyline (read more about why in my review). The books revolve around a heist that the six-person crew (the five from the show plus Wylan Van Eck) must pull off. The characters each reside in Ketterdam (a city based on Amsterdam) for various reasons and for various reasons are the best people for a job based in Fjerda (a Nordic-based county).

Why it stood out to me: This book series took everything I loved about Shadow and Bone and added more humour, more culture and worldbuilding, and more lovable characters with questionable intentions. Need I say more? Honestly, next to Marissa Meyer, I think Leigh Bardugo's books are probably my favorite (though I'll admit I only have one of them on my shelves). If she releases more (inside the Grishaverse or not) I will definitely be reading them.

See the Review Here

The Rose Code:

Author: Kate Quinn

Date Published: 9th March, 2021

Page Count: 656

Summary: The Rose Code is a historical fiction that swaps between the current time and the past. As female code breakers rush to break WWII code, the same codebreakers, retired after the war, rush to uncover a mystery in current times before an innocent woman loses her mind. The book is full of mystery, plot twists, and strong females and despite being a fictional book, it is rooted in truth.

Why it stood out to me: In the past, I have not read a lot of historical fiction but The Rose Code really opened my eyes to what historical fiction can be. Since reading the book, I have read a number of other historical fiction books that I have absolutely loved. There is a common thread through them all though: strong females. I am not one to read historical fiction about some random dude who shot a bunch of guys and won a war. That is not particularly interesting to me. But strong, intelligent women who cracked codes to win a war and defeated the bad guy who just about lost us the war?? That is interesting! I love the characters, the relationships (particularly the friendships between the women), and the mystery that is involved in this book. I also really loved how rooted it is in truth. After reading it, I was able to discover how a number of the characters actually existed as did the place that was the setting for the majority of the book and the types of codes they broke. I thought that was super cool! I don't enjoy history but do love it when a book like this makes history interesting for me.

See the Review Here

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