My Girlish Whims Book Club #41 and Favorite Reads of 2021

As 2021 comes to a close it's time to wrap up the last set of books I've read and my favorite books from this year as well! I read 45 fiction books this year which I am quite proud of! That's up from the 34 books I read in 2020 but that included 3 books from the Outlander series which are all extremely long, hah.  I actually took a break from Outlander entirely in 2021, but since I finished these reads up a little early on 12/21 I decided to start the fourth Outlander book to finish this year off instead of trying to squeeze one more book into 2021.  I have 5 total book reviews in this post - two holiday themed books and three regular ones.  None of these book made it to my top books of 2021 though so I figured I would round those up for you here first! Last year I picked my top 5 favorite books of the year and while this year I have a pretty solid Top 4, I couldn't dwindle down my other favorites to narrow it down to only 5 choices this year - so you get four honorable mentions and four favorites because this is my blog and I can do what I want, LOL! So, without further honorable mentions from this year!

2021 Honorable Mention Reads

The Hunting Party 

Original review here! Going back to read my review of this book made me laugh because I said in the review: "This will not be the best piece of literary fiction you will read in 2021 but it will be enjoyable and keep you guessing and I would totally recommend it!" Hah, I would say that still rings true - not THE best work of literary fiction but when I look back at all of the books I've read this year, I remember really enjoying the setting,  mystery, and different characters in this book.  It kept me entertained and guessing for the entire story and I really liked it!  I became a big fan of Lucy Foley after The Guest List was my second favorite read of 2020 and I'm happy to report that this next book was a hit as well.  I will be auto-buying everything she writes from now on for sure!

The Last Flight 

Original review here! This book is about two women at the end of their rope who end up switching places and identities before a flight to escape their life.  I liked following the twists of the story and getting to learn the background on each character as the story developed and gave details in an alternating timeline. Both Claire and Eva were likable and I still remember how even though the ending gave you closure, it also leaves you wondering a bit. The story and wondering have stuck with me since reading it early this year and it's one I would re-read again in the future for sure!

Rock Paper Scissors

Original review here. This book stuck with me mostly for the eerie setting (a creepy old church in the middle of nowhere Scotland during a big snow storm) and a twist that I didn't see coming at all.  There is nothing better than being surprised by a plot twist by a good book and this one 100% delivered for me!

The Paper Palace 

Original review here. This one ranks as an honorable mention for me due to the writing: I think it was a really beautiful piece of literary fiction.  There was a lot more depth and background to the story than I was expecting and even though it covered some hard topics I was super eager to keep reading it and see the story through.  I appreciated the imagery and descriptions of the "the paper palace," pond and scenery around the camp, the fun banter and quick dialogue between the characters, and the use of symbolism in the book.  Even if the ending made me mad I was very invested in the story and thought it was beautifully written.

2021 Top Reads

Number 4: Firefly Lane

Original review here.  Of all the books I read this year, I think I remember and look fondly back on the characters of Tully and Kate the most. I loved and hated their friendship all at the same time, but their constant love, friction, and drama filled relationship is what kept me so interested in a book that spanned so many years without getting boring.  I also vividly remember finishing this book while on vacation in Florida in February and just like, being HEARTBROKEN by the ending, ugh. There was plenty of highs and fun parts to this book and plenty of lows as well, but overall I thought it was an awesome book!

Number 3: Beartown

 Original review here.  I was a little late to the Fredrik Backman reading game, but now that I'm in, I'm really in! It took me awhile to pick up this book since it seems like from the synopsis it's about an ice hockey team (and sports and I have little interest in each other) but do not let that deter you from reading this book! As I mentioned in my original review: "It's a book about a "hockey team" but really that's not the focus of the book at all. It's more about the difference between right and wrong, the struggles that we all carry and how far some people will go to "win" and sweep everything else that doesn't matter or gets in the way under the rug." The characters in this book were beautifully written and developed and I just love Fredrik's writing style. If you haven't read anything by him yet - make 2022 your year to change that!!!

Number 2: The Four Winds 

Original review here. Kristen Hannah, man. What an author. Two of her books are topping my list for this year with her 2021 release - The Four Winds - being my second favorite book of the year. I think a good book can do a lot of things for you but I think a GREAT book can physically make you emotional and question your own beliefs.  For the most part - this was NOT a happy book and one scene caused me to actually start crying while reading it which is very rare for me. I also learned a lot about the depression of the 1930s and dust bowl era that I didn't know before.  Following all of the hardships Elsa went through and the struggles of the "poor working class" really made me question some overarching political/economical beliefs I've held as well. Though the story was mostly depressing, it was also really beautiful and a true testament to the human will to survive and Elsa's tenacity and drive to keep her family together. Grab a box of tissues and pick this one up if you haven't already!

Number 1: The Things They Carried 

Original review here. I know this is not a new release, but this year I finally picked this literary classic by Tim O'Brien up which I never had to read in school and am so glad I did. While I love chick-lit and thriller books as much as anyone else, books that tend to rank highest for me are the ones that make the biggest impact on me as a reader and boy - the stories in this book about the war on Vietnam will really move and change you.  Part of my original review I think sums it up the best way I can still: "In short: it was beautiful and it was horrible, and you can't understand how those two can be correlated when discussing war and death and misery until you actually read the book.  The most amazing thing about this book was how artful the author crafted the stories to both share real life horror stories of the war, but still have them structured within tight, neat, cathartic stories with super moving prose.  I will never forget Kiowa and the field.  I will never forget the medic who went crazy.  I will never forget the vet who committed suicide because it was too much.  The Things They Carried were physical, they were metaphorical, and this book will remain as one I carry heavy on my heart for many years to come."

Whew! If nothing else, I hope you can takeaway from these book reviews at least 8 solid options to add to your reading list going into 2022.  If you are still looking for more, then read on for my final round of reviews of books read since my last set of reviews!

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The Holiday Swap

By Maggie Knox. Synopsis from Amazon:

When chef Charlie Goodwin gets hit on the head on the L.A. set of her reality baking show, she loses a lot more than consciousness; she also loses her ability to taste and smell—both critical to her success as show judge. Meanwhile, Charlie's identical twin, Cass, is frantically trying to hold her own life together back in their quaint mountain hometown while running the family's bustling bakery and dealing with her ex, who won't get the memo that they're over.
With only days until Christmas, a desperate Charlie asks Cass to do something they haven't done since they were kids: switch places. Looking for her own escape from reality, Cass agrees. But temporarily trading lives proves more complicated than they imagined, especially when rugged firefighter Jake Greenman and gorgeous physician assistant Miguel Rodriguez are thrown into the mix. Will the twins' identity swap be a recipe for disaster, or does it have all the right ingredients for getting their lives back on track?

Let's get this straight: this book is full of some cheesy Hallmark holiday vibes, but I was A OK with it for a quick and easy Christmas book this season! This book gave you a quaint town setting, a cast of likable supporting characters (sweet grandma Faye!), a small amount of drama to keep us interested, and two different romances developing at once. Were the problems trivial and a bit blown out of proportion? Yes. Was the one week storyline for these love stories to develop a little unbelievable? Yes. Did the story wrap up with some totally expected, over the top happy ending for everyone? Also yes. But sometimes, that's all you want for a Christmas read, and this one delivered. I know I can be a bit harsh with my reviews and judgmental of predictable storylines...but it must be the Christmas spirit getting to me or something (lol) because I really liked this cute little twin swap book. Only thing that would have made this one better for me is if it came with a loaf of starlight bread or some of the other holiday treats baked in the book to eat while reading along with the story :)

The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

By Stuart Turton. Synopsis from Amazon:

Aiden Bishop knows the rules. Evelyn Hardcastle will die every day until he can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest at Blackheath Manor. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others. With a locked-room mystery that Agatha Christie would envy, Stuart Turton unfurls a breakneck novel of intrigue and suspense.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a breathlessly addictive mystery that follows one man's race against time to find a killer, with an astonishing time-turning twist that means nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

I enjoyed reading this book and wish I could recommend/rate it higher than I will. While I liked the story and the mystery, I found it a bit hard to follow at times and the overarching reason/cause for the story was so anti-climactic/odd to me! I liked the book a lot at the beginning while you got the hang of the setting and story: an eerie estate with many socialites coming to visit and party with a hefty dose of family drama and murder thrown in was a great setting and story premise to me! The more characters that were introduced however the harder the story became to follow, the mystery timeline was not entirely linear, and the ending left me feeling unfulfilled. I'm still a bit confused about parts of the story wrap up and think the reason for the "Ground Hog Day" setting where the day is repeated over and over again for the main character to figure the murder was so random and didn't help me connect with either of the main characters at all. I got this on sale for pretty cheap on Amazon and I since I still enjoyed reading it I do think it was worth paying for to read, but its wasn't a murder mystery like Agatha Christie that I walked away from thinking "Wow! What a great story!" and was more of a "Huh. That was something" reaction - so take that as you will!

The Love Hypothesis

 By Ali Hazelwood. Synopsis from Amazon:
As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn't believe in lasting romantic relationships--but her best friend does, and that's what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor--and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford's reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive's career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding...six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

This was an ok read for me. Granted, I am notoriously hard on "romance" books - but I don't know if this book should really be classified as romance anyway. The main focus of the book is on the fake relationship between Olive and Adam, yes, but if you are looking for overall steam this is not the romance pick for you.  There was really only one extended scene where things got R (or more) rated, but besides that the closest you got to steam was sunscreen lotion rubbing on each other at a picnic.  Oh my! My favorite part of the book was probably the supporting characters: I thought Malcom was really fun and Anh was a great friend. I appreciated Olive's hard work ethic but as many lead romance heroines are she was completely self-deprecating which just gets so old so quick. Even though the author tried to poke fun at the "fake dating" trope that the book theme focused on, the most cringe worthy part of the predictable plot was not the "fake dating" but the fact that there would inevitably be some big misunderstanding between the main couple for why they were not meant for each other and just when things are getting good and going great there will be a big scene where everything falls to pieces and the couple just thinks it's "for the best" if they are not together.  I'm not giving anything away because it's just SUCH a predictable part of any rom-com plot!!! I literally threw the book down in disgust after reading that section because I was mad at how predictable it was.  Regardless, my harsh critic aside, this still is a fun book and mostly light read. The academia setting was new for me and even though I'm not into science at all I actually enjoyed it. Not a bad book, and it is pretty cute overall but I'm a bit surprised over the buzz it got and the amount of recommendations I got for it - I personally don't think it lived up to the hype. 
By Amanda Eyre Ward. Synopsis from Amazon: 

When seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the Become a Jetsetter contest, she dreams of reuniting her estranged children: Lee, an almost-famous actress; Cord, a handsome Manhattan venture capitalist who can’t seem to find a partner; and Regan, a harried mother who took it all wrong when Charlotte bought her a Weight Watchers gift certificate for her birthday. Charlotte yearns for the years when her children were young, when she was a single mother who meant everything to them.

When she wins the contest, the family packs their baggage—both literal and figurative—and spends ten days traveling from sun-drenched Athens through glorious Rome to tapas-laden Barcelona on an over-the-top cruise ship, the Splendido Marveloso. As lovers new and old join the adventure, long-buried secrets are revealed and old wounds are reopened, forcing the Perkins family to confront the forces that drove them apart and the defining choices of their lives.

Can four lost adults find the peace they’ve been seeking by reconciling their childhood aches and coming back together? In the vein of The Nest and The Vacationers, The Jetsetters is a delicious and intelligent novel about the courage it takes to reveal our true selves, the pleasures and perils of family, and how we navigate the seas of adulthood.

I picked this up to read when I saw another member of my book club reading it and she posted this beginning chapter expert on instagram: "Lee woke on a deck chair.  She wasn't sure which deck.  Her last clear memory was ordering a double Chardonnay (oh, God) at the Red Rum Bar, and then there was a flash - could have been a dream - of holding a florescent drink in a plastic cup toward a starry sky,  For about thirty seconds, her brain tried to convince her that coming to on a deck chair was somehow glamorous - a sign of her wild and freewheeling nature -but when she sat up and saw a man in uniform carefully sweep around her with his broom, she was disabused of the notion." Hah! I needed something quick and easy to read after finishing The Love Hypothesis since I didn't want to read my December book before it was actually December, and this was a good interim pick. There were parts I enjoyed about this book, and also parts that I don't think were fully flushed out in the story, but I still enjoyed reading it.  Even though there was a lot of humor and funny moments it was actually not a light read - the book touched heavily on depression, loneliness, suicide, infidelity and LGBT shame. Each of the characters came with a LOT of baggage and problems - far more than a fancy cruise ship and some tours around Europe could ever hope to fix.  The thing that bugged me the most about this book was that the author was prone to ending chapters with some symbolic phrase or situation that didn't solve anything. I'm fine with symbolism but this book could have used more tangible action instead of elusive chapter endings where nothing gets resolved.  I don't feel like any of the major problems the characters had really gets truly addressed or treated in the book, but even so I still did enjoy the characters.  Charlotte was my favorite and even with her loneliness and denial mentality she was still a hoot and you really felt for her throughout the book. You wanted her to find love, you wanted her to face the problems her children were hiding, and you still wanted to see her safely back home to her cat, triscuits, and cheap Barefoot wine chardonnay routine.  It was a quick read for me that I overall enjoyed, just wished the story would have been a bit more wrapped up.

Always in December

By Emily Stone. Synopsis from Amazon:

Every December, Josie posts a letter from her home in London to the parents she lost on Christmas night many years ago. Each year, she writes the same three words: Missing you, always. But this year, her annual trip to the postbox is knocked off course by a bicycle collision with a handsome stranger--a stranger who will change the course of Josie's life.
Josie always thought she was the only one who avoided the Christmas season, but this year, Max has his own reasons for doing the same—and coincidence leads them to spending the holiday together. Aglow with new love, Josie thinks this might be the start of something special. 
Only for Max to disappear without saying goodbye. 
Over the course of the next year, Max and Josie will find that fate continues to bring them together in places they'd never expect. New York City. Edinburgh. The quiet English countryside. And it turns out, Max had every reason to leave and every reason to stay. But what does fate hold for Josie and Max as Christmas approaches again?

This book really pissed me off.  Hah! I was hoping for a cute, holiday read which it definitely wasn't - and even without a good holiday theme I don't think it was a good story either so it just wins on zero fronts. I feel like it was a story about almost nothing.  The beginning was good - I will admit I enjoyed the brash start to the book with the breakup "here's the box of your stuff since I cheated on you" delivery, the quirky roommate and the wine filled - apartment sharing banter, and then following the quick romance and love story of Josie and Max.  After Max leaves though (not a a spoiler - it's listed on the book description!) I think the rest of the story just tanks! There's no real meat to the story, it's just a lot of back and forth between the (boring) daily lives of Josie and Max and when "fate" allows them to run into each other again.  You know that Max is hiding "something" and it just gets really old not knowing what it is and that it's causing this big drama in their could-be relationship. And then when you finally do find out what it is...BAM I mean - come on?? Really? I literally said out loud "you gotta be shitting me" at what you might call the climax of this book because I thought it was such a cringe worthy plot.  I don't think Josie had much character growth - I think she relied too heavily on male figures to propel her in life and her career and there was hardly any real story in this entire book.  Sigh. Pass on this one, I'd rather have a lump of coal for Christmas to throw in my fireplace than waste $12 on this again!

And that's a wrap on my reviews for this year! Drop a comment if you find these helpful - looking forward to finding many more good books in 2022!!!

1 comment

  1. Thank you so much for all of the books you loved. I had some good reads in 2021. I can't wait for 2022. Happy New Year.