21 Five Star Books of 2021: Best of the Best!

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There is nothing like the end of a new year and beginning of another. A time to sit down and reflect on the culmination of another 365 days around the sun, and realize, a bit frantically, that we haven’t come close to completing our 2021 goals. Anyone else? Or just me? 🙂

And though I realize MOST people also start their yearly reflection closer to the actual end of the year and not four-five weeks later, it is better late than never, right?

2021 Reading Goals

My reading goals for 2021 were only moderately completed as of Jan 1st of 2022, but that doesn’t mean that 2021 was unsuccessful. 

I believe that creating goals can be (and should be) motivating to the individual that created them, but it is necessary that not all goals we create for ourselves be easily attainable. 

If we don’t challenge ourselves to a little bit of difficulty (like deciding it would be a great idea to listen to the 52 hour audiobook of the Count of Monte Cristo), how can we foster personal growth and learn about our own strengths and weaknesses?

 Like do we actually have the fortitude to make it through all 52 hours?! 

The 2021 Five Star Book List

Creating the post for the 5 star books of 2020 last year was one of my favorite book round ups to date.  I loved reflecting on the many, many books we read in 2020, and determining which of the few made it to the list to share with you all.  

I had as much fun this year looking at my 2021 reading list (all 156 books including re-reads… I may have a problem) and deciding which books were worthy enough to make it to the 5 star books of 2021.

2021 Five Star Criteria

As a Type B person, I did not create any type of complicated ranking or point system to determine the books’ worthiness to be included in this list. I made the determination based on a gut feeling. 

Quite simply, every 5 star book was one that I, as soon as I finished, could not wait to gift to my friends, neighbors, and family to read as soon as possible. All so that they may experience the same wonder and joy that I felt. 

I maaaay have pestered a few people to read a certain book until they collapsed under the weight of my constant hints. I equate love with my friends’ wiliness to read my new book loves 😀

The Five Star Books of 2021

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Ranking slightly under The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo for favorite books written by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Malibu Rising was another home-run book for me in the historical fantasy genre.  The book is set in the 1970s over the course of a critical 24 hours in the Riva family’s lives.  It features captivating characters and a beachy backdrop that will make you dream of surfing!

Originally I ranked this book as 4.5 stars, but it has maintained itself as one of the most frequent books I have recommended to friends in 2021 and therefore earns a, well-deserved, 5 star ranking

Talia Hibbert

I have previously discussed my never ever ending love for this series and its author on previous posts. The first in  the series, (Get a Life, Chloe Brown) appeared on my favorite books of 2020. 

Each book in the series delves into the life of the three Brown sisters as they navigate family, chronic illnesses and potential life partners with quirkiness and tons of snark (my favorite combination!). 

The third in the series is a steamy enemies to lovers rom-com with one of the best representations that I have read of a neurodivergent main character in any novel, let alone a romance novel. 

Peter Heller

I stumbled upon this book due to the wonderful Modern Mrs Darcy website, not realizing that I had already read another book by this author, the hilarious surfing memior, Kook. 

It features many of the elements I love: a gorgeous mountain setting, a mature female protagonist with chronic health problems, a thrilling mystery and an engrossing backstory.  I recommended this book to my mother-in-law who loves the Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny and she adored it too!

My only drawback for this book is that there is no sequel.  Peter Heller, if you are reading this post by some miracle, I need another book about Celine!

Leigh Bardugo

I have to say I went into reading this book with low expectations.  Recently, I’ve had a more difficult time enjoying Young Adult novels (with another notable exception below) and I had read another of the author’s books and didn’t enjoy it.  Sorry, Shadow and Bone fans.

However, this book, THIS BOOK, was not your typical YA fantasy, it was a HEIST book.  I could go on for another 1000 words about how much I enjoy heist books and movies.  This book gave me serious “Lies of Locke Lamora” vibes and that has to be one of my absolute favorite heist books that I have ever gotten my hands on. 

Emily Henry

This book was one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2021 after reading the authors fantastic novel in 2020, Beach Reads.  

After I finished Beach Read, I could NOT wait to get my hands on People We Meet On Vacation and picked it up ASAP from a local Indie Bookstore.

Alex and Poppy are best friends who moved far apart from one another after college, but they always go on summer vacation together. That is until two years ago when everything got ruined. In a last-ditch attempt to figure out her life Poppy invites Alex on one more vacation, and miraculously he says yes. Can they fix what was broken?

Fredrik Backman

Let’s face it, we’re all in need of a good comedy right now AND THIS BOOK DELIVERS.

A darkly amusing tale of a bank robbery gone wrong.  The bank robber flees into an apartment showing- where each character (unlikeable in their own way) becomes involved in the crime, like it or not. 

I don’t know how I can better describe this without giving some things away, so I’d rather not. I cannot recommend this one highly enough!

Becky Chambers

I read this book right before my Introduction to Sci-Fi Guide was released, and it solidified why Sci-Fi is my new favorite genre. 

Becky Chambers wrote a beautiful, character-driven novel about a diverse crew on the spaceship, Wayfarers, as they travel around the galaxy to create tunnels for faster-than-light-speed travel. 

This is not an action-packed space opera, instead, it is a quieter novel focusing on exploring the different planets and cultures of the intelligent species in the galaxy.

If you have been hesitating on jumping into a Sci-Fi novel, I highly recommend starting with this one if you love cozy, character driven novels.

Tracy Deonn

Holy moly, I adored everything about this book. Just when I think I have aged out of Young Adult Fiction, this book lands a 5 star read for me. 

I am a UNC-Chapel Hill grad and nothing gives me more pleasure than to read a book that is completely located on the campus AND focuses on one of many secret societies that permeates the mythos of the school. 

An incredible diverse urban fantasy focusing on Bree, a Black teenager, who recently lost her mother in a car accident. She enters the early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill and stumbles upon a secret society that may hold the secret to her moms death and her families magic.  

This book isn’t afraid to discuss racial tensions in the south, the aggressions that Bree faces as a Black woman, and the racial history of the college itself which feels so groundbreaking to me in a YA Fantasy novel. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out!

Paula McLain

Are you in the mood for a dark literary thriller?

Paula McLain weaves together a beautiful, dark tale of a detective, specializing in missing children, who returns back to her childhood home to recover from trauma.  

She partners with an old friend and is pulled into a local missing girl’s case with hopes that the case will help her recover. 

Note: There are frequent mentions of abuse and crimes against women and children but were no graphic descriptions, IMO.

Alex Michaelides

Do you love a dark academic mystery with greek mythology vibes?  Grab this book quick!

Mariana, a troubled therapist with a heartbreaking past, returns to her alma mater, Cambridge University, after her niece, Zoe, calls her frantically that her friend has been Murdered.  Zoe is her last living relative, and Mariana quickly jumps into the mystery and is determined to prove that the greek mythology professor and his secret female society is to blame.

A little slow to build up in this mystery, but overall, The Maidens ranks up there with the author’s fantastic debut thriller, The Silent Patient.

Charlotte McConaghy

I adore books set in Scotland.  Maybe it’s my fierce desire to one day live in the moors of Scotland, but since it’s an impossibility for now, I read everything I can get my hands on with a Scottish setting to curb my wanderlust.

This book is a fantastic eco-thriller (new sub genre??) set in Scotland.  Inti is a wildlife biologist in charge of the project to reestablish a wolf population in Scotland to help curb the damage the overpopulation of deer has caused in the backcountry.  The sheep farmers of the area are against the project and battle lines are quickly drawn after a wolf is killed.

Part murder mystery, part eco-thriller with gorgeous descriptions of Scotland.  Read it for the atmosphere, and you won’t regret it.  

Casey McQuiston

After reading the debut, Red, White, & Royal Blue, I could not WAIT to get my hands on the author’s next book.

If you love books with found family, LGBTQ+ relationships, time travel and impossible romance, you need to get your hands on this book.  It is quirky and laugh out loud funny with a cast of characters that I want to be my own besties!

Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

So I had this book on my list of books like The Starless Sea… but posit it actually gives me more sci-fi Piranesi vibes. 

I loved this book so much that I got extremely nervous when Jack Edwards reviewed it, knowing he doesn’t appreciate Sci-Fi as much as he should! It’s okay guys, he liked it in the end 🙂 

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandment finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic.

Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang has become one of my favorite writers in the romance space with her books featuring characters and situations that don’t often make it into a typical romance novel.  Helen and Talia Hibbert (author of Act Your Age, Eve Brown listed above) star main characters with mental illness, chronic illness and autism. All in a ROMANCE novel, a genre that normally features only perfect non-relatable human specimens.

I believe authors like these have changed the romance genre for the better.  If you haven’t pick up a romance novel in a while, you need to give romance another chance with one of these.

Anna, a struggling violinist, embarks on her goal of having a one night stand after her longtime boyfriend states he wants an open relationship.  She finds Quan, a tattooed motorcyclist, but repeatedly fails at the “one night stand” part until she finds that Quan understands her far more than anyone else in her life. 

Fredrik Backman

Our second entry by Fredrik Backman on this list. He truly knows how to write a character driven novel. 

I LOVED THIS BOOK.

Britt-Marie reminded me so much of my own Finnish grandmother in her mannerisms (though Britt-Marie is Swedish). This is a heartwarming tale of a woman who has hidden depths and a life to figure out.

Sophie Gonzales

This Queer YA novel is pure perfection from start to finish. Sophie Gonzalez writes real, flawed characters that are frustrating but lovable.

Ollie has the most perfect summer fling with Will while spending time at the lake with their family. After summer is over a family emergency uproots Ollie and sees him attending the same school as Will, but Will is a completely different person at school… not to mention he’s not out.

Figuring out who you are is tough as a teenager and this book nails the experience. The cast of characters is fully fleshed out, and Ollie’s family life is rich and incredibly compelling. I loved this book and could not put it down. 10/10

Ruth Emmie Lang

This book got me through a very serious reading slump earlier in 2021. Ruth Emmie Lang walks you through Weylyn Grey’s life through the eyes of those that knew him and loved him. 

Weylyn is no ordinary young boy. Raised by wolves, with a magical pet pig, he proves to be an enigma.

A little bit magical, a little bit mysterious, a little bit emotional. This book takes you on a quiet journey that just burrows into your heart.

TJ Klune

I saw this one all over instagram and one of my friends was gushing over it. It is WELL worth the read. All the characters were so lovable, including our main character who is a fussy middle aged man who sweats a lot. Very relatable TBH. This is the best book you’ll read about a very lovable anti-christ.

Helen Hoang

You know we love an author when they get TWO books in our best books of the year.  Helen Hoang can do no wrong in my eyes:D

Khai Diep thinks he has no feelings, his family knows that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. 

When his mom gets tired of waiting for him to settle down, she goes to Vietnam to find him a bride in Esme Tran. Esme can’t turn down this opportunity, but also has hope for a new future in America, now if only she can show Kai he’s as smitten with her as she is with him.

This insightful look at the immigrant experience burrowed into my heart and would not let go.  This own voices novel is as fun as it is charming.

Brigid Kemmerer

I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. I’ve read a fair few Beauty and the Beast re-tellings and was bracing for a run of the mill book. 

This novel ended up being so fun and lovely to read. I bombed through it, reading it in one sitting. It’s definitely been added to my top favs storybook re-tellings. 

PET

Akwaeke Emezi

Pet is one of those books that grabs you and does not let go. It’s a quick read, clocking in at 208 pages. 

Emezi takes full advantage of every page. When Jam meets Pet, a creature that emerges from one of her mothers paintings, it changes her life forever. 

The children of Lucille are taught that there are no more monsters in the world. However Pet has come to hunt a monster. This haunting novel beautifully tackles tough themes. 

What books were Five Star reads for you in 2021?  Let us know down in the comments as we need to keep adding to our own TBRs!

-Alice, Anne, & Jane

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