Technically, this week’s prompt was to look at some of my favourite books that I’ve read so far that were published in the first half of 2021. Unfortunately, I’ve been a little behind on actually reading many of the books published this year so far. By the end of July, I had only read a total of 10 books that were published in 2021 so far, and many of those are books that I’ve already mentioned, despite having a ton of new releases on my list. It came down to a relatively difficult decision of whether to mention some of the books that I haven’t discussed as much yet, or to shift the topic a bit and pick some other early 2021 releases that I’m still excited to read. I’d tentatively been planning to include a few of the 2021 releases I read recently in a Recent Reads post, but I guess there isn’t much of a difference if I include them here or there. I was so surprised to see that I hadn’t read more 2021 releases yet considering how many I had on my challenge lists, and especially because I’ve been buying so many! Hopefully by the next time a topic about 2021 releases comes up, I’ll have more options to choose from. I’m listing the books below in the order that I read them, not in order of preference or by release date.
Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.
1) The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson
I read the entire Truly Devious series in July, and I have to say that this one was easily my favourite! I was a little on the fence about buying this series at all since I was worried that it would skew a bit too young for me. To be fair, the characters in the original trilogy did feel a little younger than they should have, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the problems I had with the trilogy were very easily fixed in this book. To be clear, I rated all three books in the original trilogy either 4 or 4.5 stars, so I definitely didn’t hate it! This book was more of a standalone featuring the same characters, and I think that format was a lot more successful than dragging out the same mystery over the span of three books. It took place at a summer camp, where Stevie Bell was recruited to investigate an unsolved murder that took place in the 1970s. I thought the writing of this book was a bit stronger than the previous three, and also ended up liking the characters a lot more. I think it helped that the author had whittled down the cast a tiny bit to focus mostly on Stevie, David, Janelle and Nate without the other students around. I got a much stronger sense of each of them as individuals, and liked them all a lot better (except for Nate, who I’d always loved). I also thought the mystery in this one was a lot more intriguing and I loved the entire process of the investigations and even the reveal, which went in a very different direction than I expected. I don’t know if any more books are planned in this series, but I’d definitely be interested in more standalone mysteries like this with these characters.
2) You Have a Match by Emma Lord
It was a bit of an odd choice to release this book in January when it is set at a summer camp, but it was by far one of my most anticipated books of the year after how much I loved Tweet Cute! Although I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Tweet Cute overall, it was still a great story with a unique premise. This book is about a girl named Abby who signs up for a DNA service with a couple of her friends, and she is surprised to learn she has a sister that her parents had given up for adoption and never mentioned. As with Tweet Cute, I was immediately drawn in by the characters and especially the strong friendships, which just solidified in my mind how well Emma Lord writes her characters. Abby ends up meeting her sister, Savannah, who is an Instagram star, while at camp and they decide to figure out what happened with their parents and why they never knew about each other. This book reminded me a bit of The Parent Trap, which is one of my favourite movies (they Hayley Mills version, not the Lindsay Lohan one), although the storyline is quite different. I liked the ultimate direction that the plot took, although I found some of it very predictable. In general, I thought the characters were the real strength of this book and I also appreciated the more unusual plot compared to other YA books. I’m not sure it will become a favourite of the year like Tweet Cute, but I definitely enjoyed it a lot.
3) People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
This was another book I picked up because the previous one I read by this author became a surprise favourite of last year, although in this case, I ended up loving this one just as much! This book is about a woman named Poppy who decides to invite her former best friend Alex on one last summer vacation together, in an attempt to repair their relationship and figure out what she really wants in her life after realizing that she’s stuck in a rut. I was immediately drawn in by the chemistry between these characters, even as friends, and I especially loved the early scene of them getting to know each other by sharing the very specific, unusual things they love and hate. I also enjoyed how the author alternated between the events of past summer vacations together with the current summer. I’m generally not a huge fan of books that focus heavily on travel, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the descriptions of the different places they had visited. I also enjoyed how both characters had relationships with other people over the years, including serious ones, since that felt very realistic. I especially loved the entire Tinder profile scene! I was also surprised to find that the conflict toward the end of the book felt genuine and in-character, and not too rushed even though it did take place relatively quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
4) Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book was an interesting one for me, because I loved it but also simultaneously felt a little underwhelmed. I suspect that’s because the previous two books I read by this author were both so strong, despite my limited interest in the subject matter, that it was just hard for this one to quite measure up. Again, to be clear, I loved this one and ultimately gave it 4.5 stars (rounded up to 5 on Goodreads) so it was still excellent, but I don’t think I find it as memorable as Evelyn Hugo or Daisy Jones. This book is about the Riva family, who are throwing their huge annual summer party that quickly spins out of control. All of the adult siblings are harbouring secrets that might come out, and their lives have been shaped by their family’s history. I’m not even 100% sure why this one didn’t work for me quite as easily as the previous two. It took me a little longer to get into it in general, but once I did, I was hooked. I especially loved the flashbacks to the beginnings of Mick and June’s relationship, and the way his behaviour affected all of his children’s lives. I especially loved the focus on Nina and how she stepped in to care for her siblings, and the parallels drawn between the siblings’ lives and those of their parents. I loved Nina’s ending, but otherwise found the end of the book a bit underwhelming. I was very surprised to find that this book didn’t grab me quite as much as the others I’ve tried by this author, although I still really liked it!
5) Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
I read the entire Brown Sisters series last month, although I technically finished this book right at the start of August. I picked them up mostly because I’d heard non-stop hype around them over the past year, and enjoyed them all a lot more than I expected. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that this book was my favourite of the three, I still really enjoyed it! This book is about Eve, the youngest sister, who has been cut off by her parents until she can prove that she can commit to a job for at least a year. When Eve accidentally hits Jacob, the owner of a B&B, with her car after a disastrous interview, she ends up working there while he recovers and soon finds herself feeling more at home there than she has anywhere else. I’m not sure if it’s just because I read all three of the books so close together, but I didn’t quite connect with this one as much as the previous two (Dani Brown is my favourite). I loved the B&B setting, and I really enjoyed the dynamic between Eve and Jacob. As someone who works with adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, I was especially intrigued to realize that this book also dealt with autism although I wish the author had done a little more with this part of the plot, especially when it came to very interesting topics such as how differently autism can present in some people and some of the more unusual signs that people might not immediately recognize. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the third-act conflict, which seemed very rushed and also a little out of character. To be honest, this book was probably my least favourite of the three, but only because I loved the other two so much! This was still a solid 4.5 stars, so definitely something I enjoyed.