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Best Books of 2021 (July-December)

Were the books you read in the second half of 2021 as good as the first half? Do you have any favorites? Have you found any that have made it to the top of your favorites list?

My second half of the year of reading has been even better than the first. I've found many series to add to my list of favorites. The King of Scars duology, which I hadn't had the chance to finish in the first half of 2021, was amazing as well as the Serpent and Dove series and Little Thieves. I also read my new-time favorite writing aid book, The Writer's Lexicon.

If you read my post on the books I enjoyed in the first half of the year, you may have read the pre-requisites to being on the list. If not, go ahead and read the list now:

  1. This list includes books I read between July 1st and December 31st 2021. The book had to be completed between those dates. They didn't have to be published during that time and the dates they were published are listed below.

  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.

King of Scars (series):

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Date Published: King of Scars: 29th January, 2019/Rule of Wolves: 30th March, 2021

Page Count: King of Scars: 527/Rule of Wolves: 592

Summary: The third series in the Grishaverse, the King of Scars duology follows King Nikolai as he struggles to maintain control of his kingdom while things fall apart around him. The books reveal conclusions to the two other series as a number of the issues that occur within the King of Scars duology revolve around the endings of the first two novels. Nikolai battles enemies on all of Ravka's borders and enemies entirely without the funds, time, or strength to do so. He must rely on his incredible wit and his loyal army of friends and allies.

Why it stood out to me: The three Grishaverse series stood out to me for very similar reasons. All of them have incredible worldbuilding, stunningly intricate characters, and great depth of plot. You are pulled in at once and want to know what happens to everyone, every country, and in every situation at all times. The books are impossible to put down and when you finally do (having finished them of course), you feel as though you have not finished a book but instead, have left another world. This is one of my favorites (although probably my least favorite of the Grishaverse series) because just about everything is done extremely well. I could read it over and over again.

The Lost Apothecary:

Author: Sarah Penner

Date Published: 2nd March, 2021

Page Count: 301

Summary: In the 1800s, a secret apothecary exists servicing only women. The woman who runs the apothecary was once hurt by a man and now seeks to prevent other women from ever facing the same fate as herself by offering poisons hidden in foods and objects so that her customers may take their fates into their own hands. Of course, she sells medical aids as well but that's not what she is best known for. Penner writes an almost magical and entirely mysterious story of three powerful women stealing their own lives back. One deals in potions to cure the ill fates of women, one aids the first, and the final, living in this century, seeks to solve the mystery of the other women along with her own? Where will they all end up? How will they solve each of their problems? Can they learn to trust the men in their lives again and, given a second chance in life, who do they want to be?

Why it stood out to me: This book has all the best things. It has just a splash of magic but not enough to take away what makes the book feel real. It is mysterious and you never see what's around the bend. The plants, herbs, and other elements that the women use in their poisons gives the book a certain feel that I absolutely loved. And best of all, there are three characters that are each unique and loveable in their own ways. Each woman is searching for who she wants to be and learning to take what she wants without pushing others away. It is a story of identity, magic, and mystery as well as a story of powerful women in a time women weren't empowered to be so. I loved it with every fiber of my being.

The Botanist's Daughter:

Author: Kayte Nunn

Date Published: 31st July, 2018

Page Count: 400

Summary: This book is very similar to The Lost Apothecary (which is why I read it). Two women seize their futures and rewrite the past as they search for a mystical flower hidden in the mountains (or is it the canyons??) of Chile. In the 1800s, Elizabeth must travel from England to find the flower, completing her father's mission for him. He died and left the challenge up to her despite the deathly obstacles it presented thanks to the evil man who also chases the flower (for less noble causes of course). In present-day Australia, Anna (a gardener) finds a mysterious box in the walls of her late grandmother's house and decides to follow the trail it leads her on...all the way to England. With intertwined family trees, botany, mystery, and romance, this book is not one you'll want to pass up.

Why it stood out to me: The Botanist's Daughter stood out to me for many of the same reasons as The Lost Apothecary. It has strong women in a time where women were not challenged to stand up for themselves or take their lives into their own hands. Both of these timelines, however, follow powerful women who do take their lives into their own hands and stand up to anyone who gets in their way. The books are inspiring. I also love how these books (particularly The Botanist's Daughter) explore the idea of identity and purpose. As I read them, I was unsure what I wanted to do with my life just like some of the characters. I was at a fork in the road wondering whether to take the harder (more exciting) path or the one I had been on for some time. These women challenged me to follow my dreams and go after what I wanted. Powerful characters in well-written books can do that!

House of Salt and Sorrows:

Author: Erin A. Craig

Date Published: 6th August, 2019

Page Count: 403

Summary: A twist on the story of the 12 dancing princesses, House of Salt and Sorrows follows Annaleigh and the 7 sisters she has left. Death after death has made suspicions arise in the household. People now believe that the princesses are cursed and as Annaleigh begins to investigate her last sister's death, suspecting it wasn't an accident, she starts to believe those rumors. Ghosts and horrible sightings invade the house as Annaleigh fights to get to the bottom of her sisters' deaths before she loses anyone else. The problem...she is not sure who or what she can trust. Including herself.

Why it stood out to me: House of Salt and Sorrows was unlike anything I have ever read before. Mostly because I don't really read horror and this definitely had a tinge of horror to it. But I loved the mystery, the characters (including their names), and the plot. In fact, when I was done with the book, I actually wanted something with the dark, spooky feel that this book had to it. Craig does an amazing job of taking a fairytale, twisting it without losing the tale, and throwing in enough new elements to make it entirely her own. This book is 12 dancing princesses plus little mermaid plus gore, ghosts, and other spooky phenomena all wrapped up in a mystery the reader can't hope to solve on their own.

Serpent and Dove (series):

Author: Shelby Mahurin

Date Published: Serpent and Dove: 3rd September, 2019/Blood and Honey: 1st September, 2020/Gods, and Monsters: 27th July, 2021

Page Count: Serpent and Dove: 513/Blood and Honey: 536/Gods and Monsters: 624

Summary: In a society where witches are hunted because of who they are and the powers they are born with, one witch is forced to marry a member of the church society that hunts them down to escape death. The two begin to fall for one another, but the witch has to re-learn her magic to protect herself from her greatest enemy but knows doing so will alienate her from her husband. When more puzzle pieces fall into place and other enemies rise up against the witch, her family of friends, as well as the church and country, it becomes clear that the battle is between more than just one witch and the man she has married.

Why it stood out to me: This book series has been on my "to-read" list and I wish I had read it sooner because it is now on my "top-three" list. The series has the worldbuilding of the Grishverse series (with French culture), similar characters and feel to Sarah J. Maas books and the plot of The Talon Saga with witches instead of dragons and a dash of Mahurin's own imagination. It was slightly less explicit than Sarah J. Maas books (which I appreciated) without losing the humor and maturity. Plus I fell deeply in love with the characters, particularly the main ones. They played off one another as well as those in The Talon Saga and I loved the sarcastic stubborn protagonist. Plus the other characters were amazing as well. I didn't want to leave any of them behind. The books were done so well and I want to read them again next year!


Author: Marissa Meyer

Date Published: 2nd November, 2021

Page Count: 512

Summary: Serilda can't help but lie. It's not her fault—she is, after all, cursed by the god of lies (or is it a gift?)—but sometimes those lies get her into trouble. Like when she lies to the Earl King about being able to spin straw into gold. That maybe wasn't her best move. Now the Earl King forces her to come back to his palace every full moon to spin the straw into gold for him and Serilda's only way out is the young boy who can do it for her. Only she may have to pay a price. How long can she keep up her lie? What happens if the Earl King finds out what she is doing? And how can she defeat the Earl King and save the Kingdom?

Why it stood out to me: I love all of Marissa Meyer's books but especially her fairytale twists. This one was a little bit different than her others. Though Heartless was set in Wonderland (or at least a Wonderland that Meyer created), The Lunar Chronicles were set in our world (though in the future). Gilded is set in a medieval-like world of Meyer's creation, though. The first true "fairytale" world. Gilded is also the first to include an actual reference to sex (though not explicit). What I loved about the book though, were the characters, mystery, and spookiness. Like I say, it was different than her other books. The spookiness added something that I hadn't seen before and I loved it (just as I had in House of Salt and Sorrows) and I loved the mystery (there were many plot twists I didn't see coming). Plus the characters were awesome. Gild, is one of my favorite Meyer characters yet (except for Iko and Thorne) and I loved Serilda too.

The Writer's Lexicon:

Author: Kathy Steinemann

Date Published: 20th Marth, 2017

Page Count: 318

Summary: Steinemann presents a book full of not only other words for "said," "smile" and "beautiful" but she also notes what to avoid when writing and how to avoid it. Steinemann lists taboos, rules, and overused words but she doesn't just provide you with what you are doing wrong, she shows you when the word is wrong when it is right, and solutions for how to fix what you have done wrong. And the solutions are plentiful. Is one word wrong for your book's stuation? Fine, choose another. Are you not using any of the "overused words"? Unlikely. But you'll still find use in the punctuation sections, sections on color, weather, and other words that you might want synonyms or description suggestions for. Steinemann's well-laid-out lexicon provides an abundance of ways to solve the problems you might find in your writing.

Why it stood out to me: Steinemann's lexicon is extremely well organized. It is really easy to find what you need within the pages of the book. I read through the entire book to get an idea of what I was doing wrong and right (and skimmed the lists of words for ideas). I also loved that she didn't say "THIS is ALWAYS wrong." Writing isn't a science. Though there are some "rules" they are held loosely because writing is an art. While most should follow the rules, there are situations in which breaking the rules can have a good result (NOTE: I plan to follow the rules I just don't like when ABSOLUTES are placed on my writing). I also loved that she gave lots of solutions. Not just replacement words but also ideas for how to replace or fix things in ways other than just using a synonym. Some of my favorite sections included ones on color, weather, "laugh and smile" and other words I know I overuse.

Little Thieves:

Author: Margaret Owen

Date Published: 19th October, 2021

Page Count: 512

Summary: Vanja is the goddaughter of two goddesses: Truth and Death. She is also the penny thief that has been robbing many of the noble of late. And the Prinzessin Gisele (but only when she wears the magical pearls which she stole from the REAL Gisele). Oh... and her maid, Marthe. She has been playing "find the lady" with these cards for so long that when a prefect shows up at one of the nobles' houses looking for the penny thief with magic and training at his back, she is sure she can keep doing so until she has enough money to make her escape. That is, until she is also cursed to turn to gems in two weeks by a third goddess. But surely she can still do it all on her own right? Unless the fiance of the woman she's pretended to be (or more correctly, one of them) comes back into town demanding the wedding, and there happens to be more going on there than she originially assumed.

Why it stood out to me: Strong female characters are the best and Vanja is no exception. Vanja is stubborn and sarcastic and the source of great humor and inspiration but she is not the only reason to love the novel. The novel is also a great fairytale twist both close and far from the original tale with random elements from the tale included. It also has an AMAZING plot. There are so many things going on at once that the novel could have been terrible but Owen manages each of the elements really well and the novel comes out great. I never saw anything coming and for the first half of the book still thought the book was about Vanja's curse and connection to her godmothers. Finally, I really love the romance in the novel. There is a slow-burn romance between the two main characters that is done flawlessly and I love that it's not "sex, sex, sex!" There is plenty of reference to sex but often in connection to the protagonist's lack of knowledge which was hilarious and really enjoyable.

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