Every year, I’ve struggled to pick just twenty. What can I say? I read a LOT of amazing books. (Also, I’m pretty picky about what I read to start with :p) This year, while I did, again, struggle to pick a top twenty from the list, I easily picked a top five. What?!? I know, crazy right?
These were the ones that stood out from the rest. Ones I wished I could have given more stars to. Ones that reached right into my heart for various reasons, and stayed. Ones that captivated me, or made me cry, or laugh, or think about my own life and faith—or all of the above. Ones that made me think, wow, this is why I read.
Those five were:
Love and the Silver Lining – Tammy L Gray
This book had so much beauty, so much heartache, so many hard truths, so much love, so much grace, so much depth and real life. I absolutely loved this story, its characters, the things they struggled through, and the way they not only fell for each other but challenged each other to be better than they were.
It took way longer than it would usually have taken me to read it because I kept re-reading scenes and just sitting there to let the words sink in. I love how Tammy L Gray writes such real Christians – ones who are far from perfect but, in their imperfections, are so perfectly relatable. Absolutely beautiful and one I know I’ll read again. Likely many times.
The Medoran Chronicles – Lynette Noni
I know, I know, it’s a series and not a single book, but I’m counting it as one since I read them back to back over the course of ten days and was so caught up in the entire story that I couldn’t split one from another.
They were described as Harry Potter meets the X-Men meets Narnia, and honestly, with those big names, I kinda scoffed. I mean, really? To my surprise, they totally lived up to that description.
From first page to last, I was absolutely captivated. And since they’re all 400+ pages, that’s a lot of words. The writing, the diverse and amazingly developed characters, the plot twists that were so unexpected yet so perfectly set up (even books in advance) that I wondered how I could have not seen them coming (and already want to read the whole series over again because of them), dragons, prophecies, multiple worlds, time travel, best friends, challenges, slow burn romance, choices, faith, powerful dark v light imagery…
They won’t be for everyone, I’ll say that now. But if you enjoy fantasy, amazing world-building, detailed characters, Harry Potter, X-Men, or anything along those lines, definitely run out and find this series! I’m trying very hard to pace myself and not read it all over again right away.
Until I Met You – Tari Faris
Sometimes a book comes along that just hits you in the heart, and five stars will never be enough. Until I Met You, by Tari Faris, was one of them. I sobbed through a couple of scenes in this book (after laughing through a bunch of others), not because they were sad, but because they were so beautiful. The true meaning of grace, portrayed so perfectly in this book, hit me at such a heart level that I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by it, and the gift of it in my own life.
I know they’re ‘just fictional characters’, but their lives, journeys, hurts, fears and brokenness were all too relatable. I loved the wisdom, the wit, the (double) romance, Otis the travelling hippo (who I have my suspicions about…), and the way faith was so simply and unjudgementally woven in to what took me far too long to realise was a Prodigal Son story. Couldn’t more highly recommend this book, and the others in the Restoring Heritage series.
All that Really Matters – Nicole Deese
This book was incredible, just like I knew it would be. Deep, witty, thought-provoking, challenging, fun, heart wrenching (but in a really good way), beautiful, fun, real…
Beyond being a captivatingly beautiful story, it really made me think about my platform, influence and the way I use social media. I wondered if I would feel condemned or guilty after reading a book about a topic like this. In all honesty, I did feel challenged, but also really encouraged. It was a great reminder that God gives us all our particular gifts, and every one of them – even the ones that seem frivolous like sharing pretty photos on social media, or being a style icon – can be used to honour God.
Feel like there is a lot more I could say about this book and how it impacted me, but I might leave it there for now. Definitely read it though. I will say that.
Stay With Me – Becky Wade
This one easily made its way to the top of my favorites list. It’s funny, sweet and romantic, but also raw, deep and vulnerable. It left me not only entertained but truly challenged at a heart level about the picture I show the world and who I really am inside. An incredible book and one I think every woman (especially those in any form of ministry) should read. Absolutely beautiful.
There you have it, my top five ‘six-star’ books. But since I promised you twenty, and couldn’t possibly stop at five recommendations, here are the rest of my top twenty. Click on any of the covers (including those above) to read more.
Shackled Lily – Tammy L Gray
Yes, another book by Tammy L Gray. What can I say? I love her writing. Shackled Lily is the middle book of her Windsor series, all of which were incredible. The main characters are pretty broken, and make some decisions that really hurt others around them (which were hard to read at times), but that just made the grace and relationships in their stories even more real and beautiful.
Luka – K E Ganshert
One of my favorite (and most read) young adult series is The Gifting series, by K E Ganshert. It captivates me, every single time. I love the story, the challenges, the romance, the main character’s journey to finding (and accepting) who she really is, the sweet romance. When I heard the author was writing more in this series, of course I had to read it. This one is the first book retold from the hero’s point of view (rather than the heroine). Yes, it’s the same story, but I loved reading it from Luka’s point of view, along with extra scenes that came with it.
The Stolen Princess – Kortney Keisel
Kortney Keisel was a new-to-me author I discovered this year, and am incredibly glad I did. Her Desolation series (of which this one is the third) had me alternating between laughing, gasping and swooning the whole way through. I love the witty conversations her characters have, but also how they aren’t afraid to defy what’s expected of them as royals to do what’s needed. The romances were pretty sweet too 🙂
Brand of Light – Ronie Kendig
I’ll admit, this one took a little bit to get into because the more sciency aspects of Sci-Fi go over my head the majority of the time, and there was (understandably) quite a bit of set-up/world-building at the start of this book, but it didn’t take more than five chapters or so to be totally hooked. I loved the prophesy and how that played into both the main characters’ stories, the different gifts they had, and the way I couldn’t stop thinking about it so much that I dreamed about it. A couple of times. The second book was pretty incredible as well. Very much looking forward to reading the third, which comes out in 2022.
Come Back to Me – Jody Hedlund
I was on the fence about whether to even read this one for ages, mostly because most of the books I’ve read involving time travel have been pretty disappointing (Lisa Bergren’s River of Time series being the exception). But, what can I say, I fell in love with the cover. And then, I fell in love with the book. It was really well done, totally believable and totally romantic. Loved it and am very much looking forward to the next one in the series!
To Dwell Among Cedars – Connilyn Cossette
I loved the first two of Connilyn’s series so was thrilled to read this next duology of hers. It didn’t disappoint. She has such a beautiful way of bringing Biblical history to life, and filling me with awe again at this incredible God who loves us and offers grace even though we disappoint him time and time again. I liked the first book (this one) more than the second, but only because the second one was pretty violent and heart-wrenching to read as a mother. Which fit the time and characters, and made their growth all the more beautiful, but yep, had to switch my mother-heart off a bit to read it. Still amazing though.
A Time to Speak – Nadine Brandes
The Out of Time series was one I’d heard so many people rave about that I knew I had to try it. This is the second book pictured, and probably (I think?) my favorite of the three, but they’re so interconnected that it’s hard to say. It’s the kind of series/story that sticks in your head and heart long after the last page. I loved the growth the main character took from first page to last and how she had to find not only her purpose, but the courage to follow it, and the strength to allow those around her to help. It was gritty and some scenes made me want to cry, but there were so many scenes where I just wanted to cheer. Yep, this one will stick with me for a long time.
Winning the Gentleman – Kristi Ann Hunter
I loved reading Kristi Ann Hunter’s Winning the Gentleman. Not surprising at all given she’s one of my favorite authors and one I come back to time and time again when I need a book to sigh over and characters to laugh with, but still. So good.
This one’s a historical romance about a female jockey back when that was just unheard of. Add to that a main character who just can’t stop talking, a boss/friend/more than friend who barely talks at all, a few secrets, some opposition, and a whole lot of matchmaking friends (some who I already loved from other books) and yep, this one was a definite winner 🙂
Defy the Night – Brigid Kemmerer
Another amazing YA book from an author who quickly made her way into my auto-buy list. This Robin-Hood-esque story was pretty violent at times, not going to lie, but it fit the time and was such a part of the characters’ stories that I still really enjoyed the book. The romance was beautiful, the characters and their journeys captivating from first page to last, and while my heart felt tugged and torn at times, I’d happily read it again. Very much looking forward to the rest of the series.
Not Another Love Song – Olivia Wildenstein
This YA was cute. Not particularly deep or anything, although there were family issues the main characters both worked through, but just really sweet, fun (especially the way the two mains met) and cute. A story which made me smile and sigh with happiness. Even if it was somewhat predictable. Predictable is much needed some days!
Divergent – Veronica Roth
Okay, so yes, this is a frequent read for me. I just really like this book! I love the main characters, their journeys (I’m starting to sense a theme here with all the books I’ve picked…), the romance, the way it captivates me again every time. I actually listened to this one as an audiobook for the first time this year and really enjoyed it. Easily a favorite. Although, for the record, I only really like the first book in this series. Not the rest of them. Pity :p
Heart of a Princess – Hannah Currie
Yes, I read this book this year, and loved it. This was the first time I’ve read it since it’s been published and it’s really different reading it as an actual book (as opposed to a manuscript on my computer). I was able to switch off my editor-brain and just enjoy it. Which I did. I might have struggled with writing Alina’s story, but I love how it turned out and it really was special to be able to read it as a story rather than a project. Kinda fun!
Once Upon a Royal Summer – Teri Wilson
I can’t actually remember where I spotted this one (Bookstagram, no doubt), but it sounded fun so I tracked it down. It was so sweet and totally made me smile. I love it when there’s a kid playing matchmaker 🙂 Makes for such a fun story. If you’re looking for something cute, light, romantic and royal, check this one out. Reality? Not so much. But definitely sweet.
The Fill-In Boyfriend – Kasie West
This was another re-read, and actually the very first book I read in 2021! I love Kasie West’s YA books and find myself constantly coming back to them when I need something romantic and fun, but with a bit of depth to it. I like the way they’re sweet and witty but delve into themes and issues that are so prevalent for teens. This one deals with social media and its impact on teens’ worth. Picking a favorite Kasie West book would be almost impossible, but this one would be in the top five 🙂
So there you have it. My top twenty (and top five) reads of 2021. Have you read any of them? Have a favorite book you’ve read this year? (Or a few? Hey, I went with twenty!)
Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear!