Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s theme is Best Books I Read in 2021. There are still a few days left in the year, so I suppose something could completely blow my mind between now and then… But here at the 10 that are the frontrunners so far! 😉 (Note: I am not counting rereads for this particular post.)

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10. While I Was Away by Waka T. Brown – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

The Farewell meets Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to 1980s Japan, where she was sent as a child to reconnect to her family’s roots.

When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been her summer vacation, Waka is plucked from her straight-A-student life in rural Kansas and flown across the globe, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime.

In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing in kanji, doesn’t quite mesh with her complicated and distant Obaasama, and gets made fun of by the students in her Japanese public-school classes. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.

If she’s always been the “smart Japanese girl” in America but is now the “dumb foreigner” in Japan, where is home…and who will Waka be when she finds it?

While I Was AwayWhile I Was Away by Waka T. Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not sure I have ever read a children’s memoir written by someone who wasn’t super famous. What a great read. I really admired and related to Waka. I loved that she developed a relationship with her Obaasama but also knew she did not have to forgive her for being cruel when she didn’t apologize, and that her difficult upbringing was no excuse for being hurtful to Waka.

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Read my full review here!

While I Was Away really touched me. I find reading about middle grade kids always does that to me. That age was such a pivotal moment in my life that I get emotional thinking about it and always relate to children in books. Since this was Waka’s memoir, the story hit me even more than usual. What I loved most about it was Waka’s strength. She recognizes the generational trauma her Obaasama has dealt with, but when Obaasama takes it too far and is cruel to Waka, Waka knows she does not have to forgive her. Obaasama’s past is a reason for her behavior, but no excuse. I would never have come to this realization at 12 and in all honesty, reading this segment caused me to do some personal healing of my own.

9. Waiting For a Scot Like You by Eva Leigh – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

Eva Leigh concludes her Breakfast Club and 80s movie-inspired Regency series with a merry widow and a stoic major on a bumpy road to love…

Adjusting to life in peacetime isn’t easy for Major Duncan McCameron. Escorting a lady on her journey north seems like the perfect chance to give him some much-needed purpose. That is, until he learns the woman in question is the beautiful, bold, reckless Lady Farris. She makes his head spin and being alone together will surely end in disaster.

Beatrice, the Dowager Countess of Farris, is finally free of a stifling marriage and she has no plans to shackle herself to any other man. Ready to live life to the fullest, she’s headed to a week-long bacchanal and the journey should be half the fun. Except she’s confined to a carriage with a young, rule-abiding, irritatingly handsome Scottish soldier who wouldn’t know a good time if it landed in his lap. But maybe a madcap escapade will loosen him up…

Between carriage crashes, secret barn dances, robbers, and an inn with only one bed, their initial tension dissolves into a passion that neither expected. But is there a future for an adventure-loving lady and a duty-bound soldier, or will their differences tear them apart?

Don’t miss the earlier books in the Union of the Rakes series—My Fake Rake and Would I Lie to the Duke are available now!

Waiting for a Scot Like You (Union of the Rakes, #3)Waiting for a Scot Like You by Eva Leigh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a good one – still not sure if Book 2 or this one is my favorite in the series. So many fun 80’s references and a stunning and sexy romance. I love that this series features couples falling in love and journeying into their futures together in less traditional ways. Only thing that could make this series better is a novella about the side couple featured throughout the three books.

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Read my full review here!

Gosh, what’s not to love about this one? As with the entire series, Eva Leigh embraces the best of tropes and flips the worst of them on their head. I loved that Beatrice is twelve years older than Duncan. I’ve never read a romance novel with a middle-aged heroine where the hero wasn’t the same age. I loved that the love scenes are a little kinky. I really appreciated how strong Beatrice was in her opinion about not getting married. I liked that those interested in having multiple sexual partners, whether they are single or in an open relationship, were not described as sinful or evil.

8. A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

“Readers will easily fall for Sophie and Ned in their gaslit surroundings.” –Library Journal, starred review

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

A Holiday by GaslightA Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dazzlingly romantic historical Christmas novella. This just kisses novel had me swooning more than some of the erotic romance I’ve read this year. Sophie and Ned’s chemistry jumps off the page and the author does a phenomenal job of throwing in historical details with context.

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Look out for my full review on December 2, 2022.

Though this is a “kisses only” novella, the chemistry between Sophie and Ned jumped from the pages and had me swooning more than some of the erotic romance novels I read in 2021. This was a truly lovely, festive Christmas story perfect for readers of all ages and interests. Even if you like your romance steamy, I think this one will work for you – it did for me!

7. I Dream of Popoby Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

From New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne and illustrator Julia Kuo, here is I Dream of Popo. This delicate, emotionally rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.

I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.
I wave at Popo before I board my flight.
I talk to Popo from across the sea.
I tell Popo about my adventures.

When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.

A New York Public Library Best Book of 2021
A Booklist Editors’ Choice Winner for 2021

I Dream of PopoI Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Casually crying at work again no big deal.

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6. Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

New York Times bestseller!

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Plus don’t miss the thrilling sequel, Amari and the Great Game!

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, #1)Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first time since I was the target audience that a middle grade fantasy novel completely enthralled me. Fabulous characters – not just Amari, but the side characters too – and gorgeous world-building, not to mention excellent themes. I love that the author does not shy away from the real-world metaphors like others in this genre do. Amari recognizes the similarities between situations.

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Read my full review here!

What really stands about about Amari versus other fantasy novels for this age group are the clear, solid themes. Alston draws a metaphor between the known world (the real world we live in) and the supernatural world and the way Amari, a Black girl, is treated in both -especially as compared to white children. The metaphor is 100% apparent and something Amari is aware of. No going back and claiming a vague similarity was there all along years later (as some famous authors have).

5. Magic Candies by Heena Baek – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

A quirky story about finding your voice, from internationally acclaimed author Heena Baek.

Tong Tong could never have imagined what everyone around him was thinking. But when he gets hold of some magic candies, suddenly there are voices everywhere. He can hear how his couch feels, what upsets his dog, that his demanding dad loves him. He even gets to catch up with his dead grandmother. It turns out, these voices in Tong Tong’s life have A LOT to say! Is Tong Tong ready to hear it?

At turns funny, weird, and heartfelt, this imaginative picture book from award-winning Korean author Heena Baek will take readers along on Tong Tong’s journey as he goes from lonely to brave.

Magic CandiesMagic Candies by Heena Baek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is trippy. Maybe the art isn’t for everyone but I loved it. I laughed. I cried. Would make an awesome read aloud.

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Psst… It’s free on Kindle Unlimited!

4. The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

TIME‘s Best Books of the Year
Wall Street Journal‘s Best of the Year
Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Best of the Year
Boston Globe‘s Best of the Year
BookPage‘s Best of the Year
Publishers Weekly‘s Best of the Year
School Library Journal‘s Best of the Year
Kirkus Reviews‘ Best of the Year
Bank Street’s Best of the Year
Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best
New York Public Library Best of the Year

From Pura Belpré Honor-winner Donna Barba Higuera—a brilliant journey through the stars, to the very heart of what makes us human.

“Gripping in its twists and turns, and moving in its themes – truly a beautiful cuento.”—New York Times

“Clever and compelling … wonderfully subversive.”—The Wall Street Journal

★ “This tale packs a wallop. Exquisite.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

★ “Gripping, euphonious, and full of storytelling magic.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)

★ “A strong, heroic character, fighting incredible odds to survive and protect others.”—School Library Journal (starred)

Había una vez . . .

There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita.

But Petra’s world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children – among them Petra and her family – have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race.

Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet – and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity’s past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard – or purged them altogether.

Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again?

The Last CuentistaThe Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply WOW. I don’t even like sci fi and could not put this one down.

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Look out for my full review on April 10, 2022.

This was such an engaging read. I knew what was going to happen next, but absolutely could not put it down. The theme of the power of stories was so well done. I absolutely loved this 5 star middle grade novel and think readers of all ages will too.

3. Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!

Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!

But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.

All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting all the time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.

Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.

Stuntboy, in the MeantimeStuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love both of these creators and they’ve combined to make something really special with this one.

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Look out for my full review on March 7, 2022.

Everything I love about Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third was combined in this novel. Portico is a kid with anxiety and his parents are always fighting. Only he and his best friend know he’s not just Portico but the superhero Stuntboy, capable of helping out all of the neighbors in his apartment building. When Portico’s parents fight, they tell him to go do something “in the meantime” and Portico begins to think of their argument sessions as “the mean time”.

2. A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, richly imagined series continues with the journey of Feyre’s fiery sister, Nesta.

Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)A ​Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In ACOMAF, Mor says, “There are good days and bad days for me – even now. Don’t let the hard days win.”
In ACOSF, Nesta, after months of getting a handle on her mental health (and physical health) (and also screwing Cassian senseless 🥵) thinks to herself a quote that struck me even more: “Some days might be more difficult than others, but… I want to experience all of it, live through all of it.”
This may be my favorite SJM book I’ve read yet. With a healthy dose of erotica, this is a sweeping fantasy romance with a focus on mental health and the friendships between women.
Note: This is heavy on the relationships (romantic and platonic) and light on the meat of the plot, which is still pretty detailed and involves a ton of world-building. I think even those who hate Nesta going in can appreciate this one, even if it doesn’t sway them into liking her.
Also note: This one was not perfect. I honestly was very annoyed with a number of characters I usually like and their treatment towards Nesta and lack of apology, but maybe we’ll get that in a later book. This was 5 stars for me because of the main chunk of the story, which was lovely.

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Read my full review here!

A Court of Silver Flames is the fifth (or I guess fourth? one is a novella) book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. While the other books were almost entirely from the point of view of Feyre, this one is from the points of view of Nesta, Feyre’s eldest sister, and her love interest Cassian. Nesta is a controversial character in the fandom for her bad attitude, some finding her behavior to border on abusive. In this book, we get plenty of insight into Nesta’s mind to see why she behaves the way she does, and whether she feels any remorse for her actions.

1. Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen – Buy it here!

The summary, from Amazon:

An enchanting, farm-fresh debut graphic novel starring an unusual heroine who is braver than she realizes, for middle grade readers looking for a cozy, adventuresome read in the vein of Witch Boy or Be Prepared.

Garlic feels as though she’s always doing something wrong. At least with her friend Carrot by her side and the kindly Witch Agnes encouraging her, Garlic is happy to just tend her garden, where it’s nice and safe.

But when her village of vegetable folk learns that a bloodthirsty vampire has moved into the nearby castle, they all agree that, in spite of her fear and self-doubt, Garlic is the obvious choice to confront him. And with everyone counting on her, Garlic reluctantly agrees to face the mysterious vampire, hoping she has what it takes.

After all, garlic drives away vampires…right?

Garlic and the VampireGarlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a garlic-loving, witchy vegetarian with anxiety, I couldn’t NOT vibe with this book. A short, fun read.

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Look out for my full review on April 7, 2022.

What charmed me so much about this story is that it was the first time I read a book where a character was not loved in spite of her anxiety but also for it. I love that we see how anxiety makes Garlic more empathetic and also a high achiever. Her motivation for confronting the vampire is based on extreme worry for others as well as a need to prove herself to Carrot, who believes in her. We have such a silly, whimsical story that does a great job showing anxiety beyond the surface level and the traits and values it can instill in a person in only a few chapters.

And there you have it! I loved these ten books and hope you will read them and enjoy them as well. Have you read any already? What were your thoughts?