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  • Writer's pictureAnnika Pillai

my top reads of 2021

I have read 91 books this year (not quite enough for my Goodreads goal of 100 books, ugh), and I can really only pick out six books that I have given five stars. I don’t know if I am just a really picky reader, or if I have picked out some not-so-great books to read this year, but I thought that I would go the six books that I have read this year, that have actually been good.

Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Probably my best book of this year has been Dear Aaron––and I’m going to preface this by saying, I know this book is not going to be for everyone. Out of all of Mariana Zapata’s books, Dear Aaron, is probably not her most known, or popular release, but I ate this book up.

This story follows Ruby and Aaron––Aaron is currently enlisted in the military, and Ruby is writing letters to him, which is how their relationship starts to build. A good 50% of this book is told only through emails and texts, which I think is why a lot of people did not like this book, but I really did not mind. I really enjoyed seeing the slow development of Ruby and Aaron from strangers-to-friends-to-lovers. Mariana Zapata is the queen of slow burn, and this book was no different.

I think that another reason I enjoyed this book so much was because of how much I related to Ruby––she was a very anxious heroine, and certain aspects of her character was really relatable to me. I will once again stress that I don’t think everyone will love this book, so perhaps read other reviews from other’s before starting, but I highly recommend.

Rating ➳ 5/5 stars

(tw: death, panic attacks, racism)

Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

The second book on my list is Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle, the author of You Deserve Each Other. This book follows Maybell and Wesley. When Maybell inherits a house from her Great-Aunt Violet she is very excited, because she desperately needs a fresh start. However, when she arrives, she finds out that the house is falling apart––not only that, but she also has to share the house with Wesley, a groundskeeper and a huge grouch. Due to their forced proximity, the two slowly begin to form a tentative friendship, which eventually leads to something more.

I thought that this was so cute! Maybell was a great heroine, and I loved the anxiety representation in Wesley’s character––you rarely ever see male anxiety representation, especially in romance, so I just loved reading about him.

Obviously this book is a traditionally published romance, and naturally it is on the more tame side for a romance novel, but I just thought that the romance was so sweet and wholesome to read about, and I honestly cannot recommend this book enough.

Rating ➳ 5/5 stars

(tw: anxiety, panic attacks, mental illness, grief)

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Now, this book is actually a pretty surprising inclusion, since I really haven’t loved that many Colleen Hoover books––and to be honest, I don’t even know why I like this book so much. I think part of it may be because I read this book over the summer, during my vacation in Seattle, so I more or less have really good memories reading this book. I actually brought this book with me on a boat, when we went whale-watching, so it was just a really pleasurable experience all around.

The story follows Morgan, and her daughter Clara. Morgan had Clara when she was really young––still in high school, in fact––and ended up marrying her high school sweetheart. Things are going really well, until Clara’s father passes away in a tragic accident. While struggling to cope with this new reality, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see.

I wouldn’t quite exactly classify this book as a romance––more so as women’s fiction––but there are two romantic subplots in this book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Like I mentioned earlier, I can’t quite pinpoint why I enjoyed this book so much, but something about reading about Morgan’s character arc, how she coped with this loss, and her relationship with her daughter was very interesting, and raw to read about––and the romance was pretty great as well.

Honestly, as someone who doesn’t always love Colleen Hoover’s books, this one was pretty good, and one that I’d actually recommend.

Rating ➳ 5/5 stars

(tw: car accident, death of a parent, grief, infedelity)

The Chase by Elle Kennedy

The fourth book on my list is The Chase by Elle Kennedy––now, I actually read this book a little bit before the whole Off-Campus trend hit TikTok, and I never really did read the Off-Campus series either. I kind of just picked this book up on the whim, after seeing it was free on the kindle store, and decided to read it and I really enjoyed it!

This book follows Summer and Fitzy––Summer is your classic rich, pretty, blonde girl, and is someone that Fitzy, a tattoo-covered, video-gaming, hockey-playing nerd-jock wants nothing to do with. He wants to stay out of the spotlight, and she seems to attract drama wherever she goes. But, when Summer and Fitzy suddenly become roommates, it seems like they have no choice but to be around each other––and things take off from here.

I know that a lot of people didn’t like this book, but I actually love the popular girl, nerd guy trope, and for me, this one did not disappoint.

Now, this was not anything groundbreaking––it was your typical new adult, college, romance, but I had such a good time reading it, that I couldn’t give it anything but five stars. I also just really appreciated that there wasn’t some bullshit third act conflict? It was honestly refreshing to read about.

Rating ➳ 5/5 stars

(tw: sexual content, sexual harrassment)

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

The fourth book on my list is actually the only thriller I have on my list, and it was a book that was on my most anticipated releases of 2021 list. Every Last Fear, has such a unique premise, that I couldn’t help but love it. The book follows NYU student Matt Pine who, after a night of partying, discovers that his entire family have been found dead from an apparent gas leak in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they refuse to tell Matt why.

The interesting thing is, this isn’t the first time Matt’s family has been in the media. In fact, Matt’s older brother Danny is currently serving life in prison for murdering his high-school girlfriend, and he was also the subject of a viral Netflix documentary covering the case. The country believes in Danny’s innocence, but Matt is not so sure––on the night Charlotte was murdered, Matt saw something that has convinced him of Danny’s guilt.

Now faced with relentless media and questions, Matt is forced to face the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison, confronting his every last fear.

I have never quite read a book like this, and oh my goodness it was so interesting. I don’t know if the actual thriller part was groundbreaking or anything, but I just loved the premise so much. It was so modern––a true crime Netflix documentary?––and I really did love reading about Matt and his family. This whole story just really reminded me of those true crime podcasts.

This was such a fun thriller, and I honestly really recommend you read it.

Rating ➳ 5/5 stars

(tw: murder, death, attempted suicide, sexual assault, child death, death of parent, infidelity)

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The sixth and final book on this list is another traditionally published romance, and it is none other than The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang––this book was on a lot of people’s favorite books of the year, so this shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

The book follows Stella, an autistic, econometrician who thinks she is “bad at sex.” So, to combat this problem, she hires Michael, a male escort, to help her out. Turns out this may have not been the best idea, since Stella quickly starts to fall for Michael, and their initial strings-free partnership starts to make a lot of sense.

This book was again so cute––and steamy as well! I think it's had some of the best smut I've read in a traditionally published romance. I also just loved reading about Stella, and Michael was such a great hero; he was so sweet and patient with her. Helen Hoang’s writing was so gripping and engaging and I also just loved the autism and Vietnamese representation. Reading about Michael’s culture was so interesting––especially since we rarely ever have Vietnamese protagonists, especially in romance.

I will say that I did put the book down a few times, due to some major second-hand embarrassment, but despite that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend!

Rating ➳ 5/5 stars

(tw: cancer, ableism, sexual harassment)

So those were my six five star reads of this year––I’m hoping that next year is a better reading year for me; hopefully I stop picking up books that I don’t like, and start to find some real gems. I think that next week I’ll post my most anticipated reads of the new year, which I’m super excited about, since 2022 is set to have some very interesting releases!

Dear Aaron ➳ 5/5 stars

Twice Shy ➳ 5/5 stars

Regretting You ➳ 5/5 stars

The Chase ➳ 5/5 stars

Every Last Fear ➳ 5/5 stars

The Kiss Quotient ➳ 5/5 stars

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