ICYMI: My Very Favorite Reads from the First Half of 2021
In case you're in the market for books I think are just great and you missed (gasp!) my summer post on the topic, here are my favorite reads from the first half of the year! My year-end list of 2021 favorites is coming soon!
My very favorite reads so far this year!
I post a monthly wrap-up of my favorite reads, but now that 2021 is halfway over, it feels like time to share the best books I've read in the past six months.
Great Circle is my favorite book of the year so far!
I also loved A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (see my five-star review below). Reading and adoring that book requires initially reading the first book in the series--which I recommend that you do.
I loved Soulmate Equation for solid light fiction. It's fun and romantic with great characters.
We Begin at the End is a great character-driven, suspenseful mystery.
I was late to the reading game on Normal People because I thought I didn't want to read it--clearly I was wrong. The television adaptation was gorgeously heartbreaking as well.
The Great Mistake feels like a beautiful love letter to turn-of-the-century New York and at times its tone reminded me of the lovely A Gentleman in Moscow.
Have you read any of these?
What are some of your recent favorite reads? Let's do some Bossy book talking!
01 We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Walk is the chief of police in the small coastal California town where he grew up. Decades earlier his account of a terrible event sent his best friend Vincent to prison. Vincent has tried to make his own suffering as great as possible behind bars by eschewing distraction and comfort, and now he's about to be released.
Duchess is a thirteen-year-old girl trying to keep her family together. Her mother Star is old friends with Walk and Vincent, and when Vincent reappears, the tenuous peace and calm Duchess and her steady family friend Walk have been able to secure for her household are disrupted.
Walk and Duchess are an unlikely pair, a milquetoast cop and a defiant young teen. But both of the longtime family friends are used to disappointment and both are used to relying on themselves. Can they somehow prevent Vincent and Star from destroying themselves and everyone who cares about them, or are Walk and Duchess inadvertently adding to the collapse?
For my full review of this book, please see We Begin at the End. Fun fact: Whitaker is eager to be in contact with his readers and will comment on Instagram if you mention his books! He seems like a kind fellow.
If you like character-driven suspense and mystery books, you might also like John Hart's (grittier) books; for my review of his book The Unwilling, click here.
Another (also grittier) author I like in this vein is S.A. Cosby; I loved Blacktop Wasteland last year (it was one of my Six Favorite Summer Reads) and I just read and enjoyed his newest book, Razorblade Tears.
02 A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green
The ending to Green's duology has tremendous heart without ever flirting with sappiness, offers deep meaning without being pedantic, and it felt blissfully, naturally, and gloriously quirky and lovely.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is Hank Green's sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and is the final book in his Carl saga. It features the fantastic characters from book one, and the plot picks up with a new version of the fight to save humanity from interfering extraterrestrials.
I just love love loved A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor so much. My son is reading it and isn't quite as enamored of it as I am, but he does think it's really good. Fun fact: the author is brothers with the prolific and talented young adult author John Green, and the two also put out science videos on YouTube.
For my full review of this book, please see A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor.
And for my review of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, click right here.
03 Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Maggie Shipstead's story spans the wilds of Prohibition-era Montana, the blustery Pacific Northwest, the unforgiving chill of Alaska, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the movie-making business, and the stark, brutal dangers of Antarctica, from the early twentieth century to modern day.
In interconnected stories--which felt equally compelling to me--Shipstead brings to life these disparate places and times and focuses on various colorful characters within them.
The author has created two independent, defiant, appealingly strong young women split by time (and, secondarily, complex male characters the women love as family or romantic partners).
Shipstead is a wonderful writer, and I loved every word of this. Both of the timelines had me hooked.
I received a prepublication copy of Great Circle courtesy of Knopf Publishing Group and NetGalley.
For my full review of this book, please see Great Circle.
04 Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
The Soulmate Equation is the latest book from the writing pair known as Christina Lauren, and I loved it.
Single mom Jess is a data analyst. She's good at crunching the numbers for work, taking care of her daughter, and leaning on her grandparents (who raised her) for help, but she's not comfortable with the idea of dating again.
But then her daring best friend (who writes sexy romance novels!) pushes her to consider a DNA-based, data-driven dating program that makes sense to her--and she receives an unheard-of 98 percent compatible romantic match with an unlikely partner.
The story is steamy and romantic at times without being dramatic. I love the tone the writing team of Christina Lauren struck with this one!
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Gallery Books and NetGalley.
For my full review of this book, please see The Soulmate Equation.
05 Normal People by Sally Rooney
In Rooney's novel Normal People, Marianne, a solitary young woman in a cold, neglectful, abusive family, and Connell, a popular athlete whose mother cleans Marianne's house, grew up together in small-town Ireland but were essentially strangers. Toward the end of high school they begin to hesitantly connect. This intersection of their lives ultimately leads to broken hearts, self-realization, true love, devastating misunderstandings, betrayals, and a strongly forged link between them.
Marianne and Connell's bond and the roots of their relationship aren't straightforward or simple, but their draw to each other becomes essential to each of them in feeling like their true selves. Toward the end of the book, Marianne reflects on a potential fracture in their situation--it isn't clear whether it's a temporary break or permanent--yet she is able to sit within the feeling that Connell and their years together (and apart) are an anchor of sorts, regardless of their status:
“He brought her goodness, like a gift, and now it belongs to her.”
The connection between Marianne and Connell is the beautiful, haunting, swirling source of misery, heartache, and joy and fulfillment in the book. Their link promises more than it ultimately delivers on the page, as they spend long period apart and confused, lonely or hurt, yet are deeply tied to one another. The ending is ambiguous but Rooney manages to convey peace within it.
For my full review of this book, please see Normal People. Rooney has a new book scheduled for publication this fall, Beautiful World Where Are You.
06 The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee
Andrew Green has been shot dead in front of his stately New York City home at the age of 83. He was elderly but remained an opinionated spitfire who hadn't felt he'd finished making incredibly significant contributions to society.
The real but forgotten figure of Green was involved in a gloriously and absurdly extensive array of essential projects—the creation of Central Park, the founding of the Met Museum and the Natural History Museum, putting Boss Tweed behind bars, securing a more equitable New York public school system, establishing the New York Public Library, and combining Manhattan with Brooklyn and Queens into a greater New York.
Lee's detail is just fantastic in terms of Green's emotions, hopes, dreams, everyday life at the time, and everything else in this epic story.
The Great Mistake feels like a love letter to turn-of-the-century New York and a captivating story.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and NetGalley.
For my full review of this book, please see The Great Mistake.