Best Reads of 2021: My Top 5 ✨

Hello there!

Time to jump into a quick time travel trip back to 2021 because I’m (finally) here with my top reads of last year 😊 I read some great books and it was pretty difficult to prune the list into the very best 5, but I managed! First I’ll present to you these lovelies and then jump into why I loved these so much (and a bit about why you should read them too).

Your Top Books 2021 (presented similarly to Spotify wrapped in a pretty graphic, the graphic by Julie (Struck by Stories)). #1 Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, published by Hodder & Stoughton on July 6th 2021. #2 Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden, published by Canongate Books on January 28th 2021. #3 Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, published by Grove Press on June 12th 2019. #4 A Psalm for the Wild-built by Becky Chambers, published by Tor on July 13th 2021. #5 The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, published by Delacorte Press on February 9th 2021

A huge thank you to Julie @ Struck by Stories for making available this gorgeous graphic for listing top books 2021! You can check it out here.

Let’s dive in to this list!

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ARC review: The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

the cover of The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown (title in the middle with a picture of a key, surrounded by a layout of a house)

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

I received an advance reader copy for free in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author! Receiving a free copy has in no way influenced my opinions on the book.

Expected publication date: January 13th 2022

Historical fiction, mystery

304 pages

Goodreads page

Buddy read with the amazing Stephen from Stephen Writes

I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

I requested The Key in the Lock in no time after I saw it being advertised for fans of The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I adored both of these books, and so I expected The Key in the Lock to provide a rich atmospheric tale with eerie twists. Although my hopes were pretty high to begin with, The Key in the Lock also seems to intentionally build up the readers’ expectations at the beginning of the book. The characters tip toe around a great mystery and something monstrous that happened in the past. Unfortunately, I felt that the Key in the Lock suffered badly from both the comparison to books by Elizabeth Macneal and Jessie Burton, and from the hype in the beginning of the book. In the end, the revelations don’t live up to the hype, and I couldn’t sense why anyone would compare The Key in the Lock to the Doll Factory or the Miniaturist.

The tale seemed very interesting to begin with, partly because the characters felt odd in a very curious way. I was certain that a lot of red herrings and Easter eggs were hidden in the narrative, and I couldn’t wait to find out why the characters behaved in certain ways. Sadly, the hints and tips and twists never appeared. The characters felt odd and distant, which made it difficult to root for them. I also couldn’t understand their reasoning at times, the main character, Ivy, being the greatest mystery of all.

The story is told in dual timelines that touch on both the mysterious events in 1888 and the first world war in 1918. I usually like time jumps such as this, but here it felt like the separate timelines took away from the story. The narrative jumps around, and the earlier timeline felt much more engaging throughout the book. I sometimes audibly groaned when a new chapter begun in 1918 rather than 1888. The timelines also discount some of the tragic events, making them seem less important and inconsequential for the story.

In addition to the separate timelines, I was confused by occasional changes in the writing style. While most of the narrative was typical of a novel, one of the chapters made it seem like Ivy was actually writing the story in a diary or letter format. This didn’t make any sense in the context of the previous narrative, and I feel that it was an odd choice from the author.

Regardless of my issues with The Key in the Lock, I must say that it was a delightfully quick book to read. The chapters were short and engaging which made the book whizz by. Also – I had a particularly great experience reading this (although the book was far from a favourite) because I buddy read it with Stephen @ Stephen Writes 😊 I loved our discussions of the sections and we came up with some crazy twists (that sadly didn’t come to fruition haha)

I also enjoyed the setting and timing of the events. The book is mostly set around Christmas in both timelines, which made it a great read in December. Not exactly a festive book – but nice to pick up around winter!

Overall, I think The Key in the Lock would make a great quick-read when you are looking for an intriguing mystery. Although the book doesn’t provide the depth that I wish it had, it is a good one to pick up and read in one or two sittings – just don’t go in with too high hopes!

picture of my rating: 2.5/5 stars
2.5/5 stars

Are you planning to read The Key in the Lock? Although it wasn’t for me, I’m sure that many readers will fall in love with it. Most of all, it would make a really good rainy day read (or even better, a snowy day read!).

Thank you so much for reading!

- Pauliina

Book Review: The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Hello there!

I have finally gotten inspired to write a book review 🙌 I took a long hiatus from posting them because I have had difficulty getting my thoughts across in the form of a review, but buddy reading The Betrayals by Bridget Collins with Stephen @ Stephen Writes made me really eager to sit down and write. (and I’m sorry to report that I was so keen on writing a review that I did it when I was supposed to be writing a research manuscript instead oops)

A meme of the 'most interesting man in the world': older man sits while leaning on a table and says "I don't always write reviews. But when I do, I write them when I'm supposed to be working."
Did I create this meme just for this purpose? Yes, yes I did

Stephen and I had some great discussions on The Betrayals and I feel that there was a lot to unpack! Thanks for buddy reading it with me Stephen, it was a lot of fun!

Let’s get into it!

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The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

Read as an audiobook

416 pages

Genre: ???

2/5 stars
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ARC Review: The Galaxy, And The Ground Within by Becky Chambers

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The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Expected publication: February 16th 2021


Part of the Wayfarers series (#4)

I received an arc in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher, the author and Netgalley! Receiving a free copy has not influenced my opinions (or the way I present them) in any way.

This review includes quotes from the Galaxy, and the Ground Within. Note that these quotes are from an uncorrected, advance proof and so any text may have been changed in the final copy.

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Binge-reading The Storm Crow & The Crow Rider by Kalyn Josephson: Spoiler-free Reading Updates & Reviews

Do you know that feeling when you glance at a book cover on Goodreads and a little voice whispers that oh you’ll absolutely fall in love with that one

A tangled gif of the main character swooning while leaning on a wooden pillar.

That’s exactly what happened to me when I stumbled across the summary & the gorgeous cover of The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson in November 2018, 9 months before it was even published.

And then, in March 2020, The WriteReads hosted a giveaway for both the Storm Crow and Crow Rider by Kalyn Josephson – which I was incredibly lucky to win! The author kindly sent me hardcover copies of The Storm Crow and The Crow Rider, and I knew that I would have to pick them up as soon as possible.

GIF by Emma Darvick of a book of which cover is made of sparkling stars

In this post, I’ll update my progress while binge-reading the Storm Crow duology and then I’ll review both books ✨ I’m so SO excited and I can’t wait to dive into this world of big, magical crows. I like to go to books knowing very little about the plot, and I also know very little about The Storm Crow. I remember from the synopsis that I read a long time ago that the first book is about a girl who lives in a town where these magical crows are a big part of everyday life, and she has studied all her life to become a crow rider? Maybe I had better just find out and get reading!

The storm Crow and the Crow Rider on a wooden floor in front of a wonderful vegan strawberry cake.

Like all my blog posts, this blog post is also completely spoiler-free! I’ll be talking about the second book as well, but only in very vague, feeling-based terms so I won’t spoil you for either book 😊

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Rep on living childfree?! – ARC Review: Olive by Emma Gannon

Olive by Emma Gannon

Published on July 23rd 2020

Contemporary fiction

I received a free advance reader copy of Olive in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley! Receiving a e-copy has in no way influenced my opinions on the book.

Content warnings: Breakup, swearing, talk of sex, bullying, abortion, IVF process, sexism

The synopsis

Knows her own mind.

OLIVE is many things, and it’s ok that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made, boxes to tick and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. And when her best friends’ lives start to branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, Olive starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different.

Moving, memorable and a mirror for every woman at a crossroads, OLIVE has a little bit of all of us. Told with great warmth and nostalgia, this is a modern tale about the obstacle course of adulthood, milestone decisions and the ‘taboo’ about choosing not to have children.

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Mini-reviews: Chronicles of the Infected, Swallowtail, and the Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up

Hello my fellow bookaholics ✨

Sorry about my abrupt December hiatus – I had a busy beginning of the month which turned into a travel-full holiday season. But I’m back at it and I can’t wait to write a whole bunch of fun end of year posts!

Today I have some mini-reviews of books that I have been extremely lucky to get from publishers and/or authors. These recent reads include dark dystopian, heart-wrenching poetry and mood-lifting manga 😊

I received a free copy of all of these books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, the publisher and Netgalley! Receiving a free review copy has in no way influenced my opinions.

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ARC Review: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

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Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Adult Fantasy

352 pages

Published on the 5th of November

Goodreads link

I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much for the publisher, the author and Netgalley! Receiving a free copy has in no way affected my opinions.

Trigger warnings: discussions of suicide, gore, violence, war, death, discussions of mental illness

Mathias is loved by everyone, he is handsome, strong and good at everything. Naturally, he is also the one and only who can save the world. When he finds out that he is the chosen one, he sets off on the journey of his life, his reliable side-kick, Aaslo, right behind him. However, saving the world isn’t as easy, or exciting, as it sounds in the stories. And absolutely everything goes wrong.

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Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

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Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

First published on the 6th of November 2018

513 pages

Goodreads page

I received a free e-arc in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much to the publisher, the author and Netgalley! Receiving a free copy has in no way influenced my opinions.

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

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ARC Review: The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Published on the 19th of November

272 pages

YA, Fantasy

Goodreads page

I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley! Receiving a free copy has in no way affected my opinions.

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist, darkly provoking and deeply romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

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