In 2021, another year of hunkering down due to Covid and struggling to maintain 6 feet (or not, for us introverts), I managed to read 50 books. I have always been a reader but I really took this year to slow down and give myself more “me time”. Self care comes to me in the form of a book. It’s escaping reality, if even for an hour, that allows me to reset. Although I have my favorite genres, I dabble in many different types of books. People tend to ask me for recommendations in their preferred sections of the bookstore but I’m here to tell you that branching out can be good. If you’re looking for your next read (favorite genre or not), I’ve listed some great ones below. I’ve also listed some not so great ones and some that are just plain messed up. Overall, my goal is to provide honest opinions of the books I’ve read. In doing so, I hope you find your next binge-worthy read, maybe a new favorite genre, and save you from a couple that were in my opinion, not worth the hype. Enjoy!
Most Unnerving Psychological Thriller
The Push by Ashley Audrain
For new mommy, Blythe, motherhood is not all she hoped it would be. She struggles to bond with her daughter, Violet, and experiences what one might assume to be postpartum. Except the situation turns out to be so much more. With no support from her husband or anyone around her, Blythe is completely isolated as she attempts to understand her issues with her daughter. Is history with her own mother and grandmother repeating itself? Is she a bad mom? Is her daughter a complete psychopath? In The Push, the author takes us through every parent’s worst nightmare. This book made me so uncomfortable, but I was here for every minute of it.
- Verity by Colleen Hoover. I’m rarely phased by a thriller, but after reading Verity I was constantly checking behind me – in my own house. It was creepy and the ending leaves many question marks for debate.
Most Addicting Fantasy Series
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
I love anything fantasy and that’s no secret to people who know me. But do you know what I love just as much? A slow burn romance. This series gives readers both which is why I binge-read all five books in a single month. Not to mention, four of the five novels range from 400-700 pages a piece. But I barely noticed while I ate, slept, and breathed each story. If you have not spent much time in the fantasy aisle but you love a good romance, I recommend this series as a place to start. Every book has a good balance of drama, sexy moments, and plenty of girl power. Did I mention these books are being made into a Hulu series? They’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, you heard it here first.
- Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas. If you thought I was done nerding out about books by Sarah J. Maas then you better think again. I wrapped up the A Court of Thorns and Roses series in a rut, unsure if I could move on, but decided to pick up her newest series, Crescent City. Although it is fantasy (and GoodReads fantasy winner of 2020 I might add), it has a modern day twist and I think this helps appeal to millennials who would normally pass it by. Only one book has been released so far in the series and the second book is due February 2022.
Most Compelling Memoir
Educated by Tara Westover
Everyone has the right to an education, but does everyone actually get one? In her own words, Tara Westover takes readers into her childhood memories of growing up without an education in the United States. Tucked away in the mountains of Idaho, Tara’s parents don’t believe in the school system (or modern medicine for that matter), so she finds her own way to college in hopes for a better future. But her journey does not persist without its roadblocks. Not only does she have to teach herself proper grammar and mathematics from secondhand textbooks, but she juggles learning while working on her family’s grueling homestead. To make matters worse, Tara copes with the trauma from her older brother’s abuse, all while her family is in complete denial. A truly remarkable story, the author teaches us the importance of an education, and to never take your opportunities for granted.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford. A young black girl raised by a single mother, Ashley shares her story of growing up in poverty and an abusive home. Meanwhile, her father is in prison, all while she wonders what got him incarcerated in the first place. Ashley C. Ford is a great storyteller and tampers with the line between anger and forgiveness. She presents a very thought-provoking question: Can we still love people despite their convictions and mistakes?
Most Triggering Horror Novel
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
Trigger Warning. Do not read IF the concept of cannibalism makes you nauseous. I did not realize this pertained to me until I read this book. Normally, I am the girl who knows the countdown to the next American Horror Story season. My husband and I binge-watch creepy movies all of October. But this book bothered me and I’m warning you that it is not easy to digest (no sick pun intended). Tender is the Flesh takes place in a dystopian society where animals are infected by a virus that deems them inconsumable. Therefore, the food industry transitions to humans as a source of meat. The book gets very detailed with how this is done, from breeding humans in cruel conditions to the types of “special meat” cuts that can be purchased at a butcher’s shop. To be honest, the parallel to the real world’s factory farming is hard to miss. Maybe this is the author’s intent and if so, she has done her job well. Overall, Tender is the Flesh is an absolutely brutal book. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I respect the craft. If you’re intrigued then by all means give it a try. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Biggest Tug of the Heartstrings
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
When a book takes place during World War II (or any war), one can expect a real tear jerker. But so many moments in this book practically ripped my heart from my chest. The Nightingale is a story about two sisters and their resilience to the Nazi invasion of France in 1939. Vianne, the older sister, says goodbye to her husband as he is shipped off to war. She is left to protect their daughter as the Nazis conquer her village, home, and life. Rebellious Isabelle is young and determined to fight for her country in any way she can, even if it means putting others and herself at risk. Not only is The Nightingale a beautiful story about courage and the will for survival, but the author’s ability to capture the hardships and history of World War II in France is incredibly captivating.
Most Shocking “WhoDunnIt“
Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
Thanks to this book, my long awaited plot twist needs have been satisfied. I enjoy thrillers and crime novels but what really tops the cake is an end you never see coming. Local Woman Missing was perfectly twisted in so many ways. Jumping from several perspectives in the timeline of 11 years that Meredith and her daughter Delilah go missing, to the present day, the author keeps readers on their toes. I’d also like to add that I listened to the audiobook version of this book and I appreciated that there were different narrators for the different perspectives. If you’re looking for a good road trip audiobook, this one’s worth a download. Overall, perfection!
Steamiest Smut Series
From Blood & Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Hold on to your rosaries, boys and girls, these books are steamy! I read one on a plane ride and prayed to god no one was reading over my shoulder. If someone did out of pure enjoyment, I wouldn’t blame them. There’s no shame in reading smut. But I won’t pigeon hole this series, they are technically fantasy romance, similar to the Sarah J. Maas novels I die over. Except they never fade to black…if ya catch my drift. In the book, main character Poppy navigates the world she has always been kept from and learns that everything she thought to be true, is a complete lie. Although a sheltered maiden, she is no damsel in distress. With plenty of sass and fire, Poppy knows how to protect herself, but can’t help falling for the one guy she’s not supposed to want. This series is perfect for all the ladies (and guys!) who are suckers for a bad boy.
- A Shadow in the Ember by Jennifer L. Armentrout. This book is the prequel of From Blood & Ash. So when I say ‘read these books’, I mean read ALL of these books, prequels included. But read them in order of publication date.
A Mind-Bending Science Fiction
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Jason Dessen was destined for greatness in the world of science. But he gave it all up to settle down with his wife and son. One night, while walking home from the bar, he is kidnapped and knocked unconscious. He awakens in a world that isn’t his own. His wife doesn’t recognize him, and his son has never been born. But he’s the scientist everyone thought he would be. A heart pumping story the entire way through, Jason fights against reality and his own personal demons to return to the life he chose. For all you sci-fi nerds out there that haven’t picked up this book, do yourselves a favor and Amazon that shit.
Half Baked Harvest by Tieghan Gerard
If you don’t follow Tieghan Gerard on Instagram then stop your scroll and go follow her right now. We are truly unworthy of the delicious content she posts daily on her account. Not to mention, her cookbook is chalk full of amazing meals and treats. A master of comfort food, my husband and I have yet to meet a Half Baked Harvest recipe we didn’t like. Prior to finding her recipes, we were eating the same things each week and I grew sick of having to come up with new dinner ideas. Tieghan has transformed our home menu and we never run out of new things to try. Whether you order her cookbook or scroll through her recipes on Instagram, you won’t be disappointed. For those looking to cook with minimal ingredients, she also has a simplified Half Baked Harvest cookbook. Happy eating!
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
A book club divided, us ladies had a big debate. Were we Team Ryle or Team Atlas while bingeing this juicy romance read? The story begins when Lily meets Ryle, who seems like the perfect guy. A neurosurgeon with six pack abs and a sister with whom Lily instantly forms a close friendship, the setup could not be any better. Although Ryle claims he doesn’t date, he’s breaking all his rules for Lily. Is true love the exception? Can he be trusted? It all seems too good to be true. Then Lily bumps into Atlas, a childhood friend who she helped through a very tough time in life. Lily is conflicted as old memories resurface and her relationship with Ryle becomes rocky. From start to finish, I loved this novel and could not put it down. My book club friends would agree. In addition to the juicy love triangle, it also brings up a tough yet important conversation on abuse.
Most Helpful Personal Development Book
You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
I’ll start by prefacing that I am a skeptic when it comes to self-help books. Most of the time I have two issues with them. A) They tend to be too heavy for me to read before bed. The information is a lot for sleepy Em, and I prefer to be whisked away to some magical land before my head hits the pillow. B) Sometimes (I won’t name names) I think they’re a crock of shit. The author will go on and on about how enlightened they are and how YOU can be too! They provide examples of their clients quitting their high paying jobs to pursue their dreams. But the problem I have with these examples is they don’t encompass the Average Joe. Most people don’t have the means to leave their jobs to try something new. I’m all for chasing the things you want most in life. Just be smart about it. You can make the leap while still having a plan. But enough of my pessimism and thank you for allowing me to rant. I will admit that this book is legit. Author Jen Sincero talks about how we get in our own ways of pursuing the change we want in life. Our subconscious, a collection of beliefs we develop about ourselves early on in life, are what’s stopping us from making that change. Her book is well structured, which I appreciate (and so does sleepy Em). She lays everything out perfectly for her readers, and she’s funny as hell. My last reason for hopping on her bandwagon? She actually tells you how. If I had a penny for every self-help book that tells you to chase your dreams but doesn’t tell you how, I could quit my job too.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The personal development category winner was honestly a toss up for me. Quiet is a great book too and Author Susan Cain is real honest. I especially recommend this book to introverts. It was super insightful about why we are the way we are, and how it’s definitely a positive thing. For those that don’t fall under this personality type, it’s still a great read on how to help your favorite silent folks thrive.
Biggest Let Downs
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
I’m sad to report this book wasn’t my favorite. Fantasy almost always excites me but this one dragged a little. In the novel, Addie LaRue makes a deal to live forever and in exchange, she goes through life never being remembered by anyone she meets. Until she meets Henry. The premise is unique but I lost interest in several spots when the book jumps through the decades of her life. However, I intend to read more by this author. She’s super popular in the fantasy world and a great writer nonetheless.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
This one’s on me and not the author. It’s me, not you! Although I stated at the start that I cross genres, I’m not a chick-lit person. I prefer books where the characters have major issues (it’s kind of messed up). People We Meet on Vacation is a sweet story about a girl who is stuck in the friend zone. This book is perfect for someone looking for a light-hearted read while sipping Strawberry Daiquiris on the beach. But it didn’t tickle my fancy and no flavored cocktail is going to change that for me.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’ve heard a lot of praise for this author and her novels are front and center on the Barnes & Noble displays. To my dismay, Malibu Rising had no climax. It’s a story about four siblings and their absent father. The family drama coaxed along and I struggled to finish. However, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is on my TBR. Anyone finish that one? I hear it’s great.