Tara’s Favourite Books of 2021

During 2021, I joined a reading challenge called 52 Books in 52 Weeks. I LOVED this challenge. It prompted me to read books outside of my comfort zone, or look for books that I may not have considered before. Some of those books even made into my Favourite Book list!

But I also got frustrated. Trying to read 52 books while writing three novels was probably a little too ambitious in one year! Plus, I found myself forgoing walks and being in nature so that I could read a few more pages. The challenge tied me down a little too much and that’s not good for me.

I’m going to try the challenge again next year, but I’m setting a goal for myself of 25 books. I’ll have the list of 50 prompts to choose from, but my goal will be realistic for me. I need better balance to keep writing well and that means being one with nature again.

If you want to join me in the challenge, I’d love that. I’m going to be talking about the books I’m reading during my livestreams in 2022, so join me! Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for more information!

 

So, what were my favourite books for 2021? I give you the book, the blurb, the link to the book, and my review.

These are not in order of preference. Just a list.

The House in the Cerulean Sea – by TJ Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

MY REVIEW:

This book is … magnificent. I giggled. I cried. And I devoured every incredible word. Deliciously written and beautifully told. This is not my normal genre. In fact, I probably would not have read this book, had it not been for this challenge. Which is why I’m going to continue with it. I think everyone should read this book and experience Lucy for themselves.

The Handmaid’s Tale – by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.

MY REVIEW:

I listened to the audiobook for this book and was blown away at how well Elizabeth Moss brings this story to life. I have seen the mini-series, which prompted me to go back and read this classic. It still scares the crap out of me how this could (and still may) happen in today’s society. Would I have found this book as compelling without Elizabeth’s voice? Maybe not. But I loved this ‘thriller’ all the same.

The Seven Husband of Evelyn Hugo – by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

MY REVIEW:

I was a bit reluctant to read this book. So many people on the Facebook forum for the challenged hailed it as a must read and there were a few others they were hailing that I just didn’t agree with. Did I swim against the current? I decided I’d see what it was about and I’m really glad I did. I couldn’t put this one down. I loved the way it was written. It was a story within a story and it drew you in, made you question what was next. But best of all, it took you back to a time when Hollywood was fabulous.

The Island of Sea Women – by Lisa See

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility—but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

MY REVIEW:

I love books that take you into the lesser known history of Asian countries (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also a Lisa See novel, is such a book and one I still think about). This book is heartbreaking. You can imagine the struggles, the love, the poverty, and the connections in every page. Oh, but the strength of these women! It’s incredible. This book is based on real stories and it makes me want to know more about that era. Get out the tissues with this one.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

MY REVIEW:

I love books about women with gumption and this novel is no exception. You can feel every part in this book.Her struggles. Her ingenuity. Her strength. But it was the vibrancy of the setting that captured me. This book is so rich in colour, sounds, and smells. It brought India to life for me.

Forgotten in Death by J.D. Robb

The body was left in a dumpster like so much trash, the victim a woman of no fixed address, known for offering paper flowers in return for spare change—and for keeping the cops informed of any infractions she witnessed on the street. But the notebook where she scribbled her intel on litterers and other such offenders is nowhere to be found.

Then Eve is summoned away to a nearby building site to view more remains—in this case decades old, adorned with gold jewelry and fine clothing—unearthed by recent construction work. She isn’t happy when she realizes that the scene of the crime belongs to her husband, Roarke—not that it should surprise her, since the Irish billionaire owns a good chunk of New York. Now Eve must enter a complex world of real estate development, family history, shady deals, and shocking secrets to find justice for two women whose lives were thrown away…

MY REVIEW:

If you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know I’m a HUGE J.D.Robb fan. This is #53 in the Eve Dallas series. And even though I know the structure of the story, it’s the characters that draw me back in. I want to know what happens in their lives next… Eve and Roarke are a strong duo and they have a dynamic that works. But it’s the rest of the characters I love just as much… I mean, Peabody and I would be besties in real life. I know that. I’ll keep reading these as long as Nora Roberts keeps writing them (Her writing as J.D. Robb is completely different than her usual books.) Now, time to pre-order #54.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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.

MY REVIEW:

There is a lot to be said for kindness and the impact it has in the world. Whether you realise it or not, it may or may not change the direction of someone’s life. This book reminds us of that. This book makes us think of our life choices. Would we have done things any differently? What if we’d taken that path? I love the stories within this book and the thoughts it conjures. An amazing book that reminds us to reach out to that friend or relative who may be quiet or struggling.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest. 

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

MY REVIEW:

If you’ve read Beneath the Surface, you’ll know that Lowell loans Grace a book… “This, Jelly, was a fabulous read. The main character? Incredible.” This is the book he loans her. I was going to name the book in Beneath the Surface, but was advised against it. The main character is incredible and this book brings the 1940s New York theatre life alive. I loved it and will be reading it again and again.

Verity by Colleen Hoover

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of the night her family was forever altered.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents could devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue loving her.

MY REVIEW:

This is not the usual genre for Colleen Hoover and in my opinion, she needs to stick with this it. It is a book you will remember. Colleen Hoover published this as an indie author, but the book has since been picked up by a major publisher, which makes me sad in a way. I mean good for her and I hope this one becomes a movie, although considering how much the book affected me, I’m not sure I’d WANT to watch the movie. If you like a good thriller, this one to add to your list. I am still thinking about this book and wondering ‘did she or didn’t she?’

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