Holy smokes. I didn’t expect to hit the ground running quite so hard with the books this year, but we’re a quarter of the way through 2021 and I’ve already hit 25 books. This has me thinking maybe I’ll up my goal from 75 to 100 for the year, but maybe I’ll just see what happens and how that plays out as the weather gets nicer and we’re outside more of each day and evening.
As always, what follows are the books I’ve read this year in chronological order. Bold titles are the ones I super recommend or enjoyed. The list that follows after the titles and blurbs is (just part of) my virtual To Be Read stack.
- Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid — I zipped through this one mostly because I didn’t want to stop reading so I could see what was going to happen next. This felt so relevant and possible and real, plus it was great the way it moved back and forth from lead female character to lead female character.
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — Although the first 20-30 pages were a little slow for me, by Part Two, I was totally hooked and found this to be a great read. I was intrigued by the characters and their life choices and by how society/perception played into all of that as well.
- The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare — This one took me a bit to get into and essentially the entire book is filled with intense hardship, but the language is beautiful and revealing and the determination in it is just as remarkable as the crisis. The story may be fiction but the facts sprinkled through the later chapter titles show how it may not be far off from reality for some (many).
- Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin — The connotation of a word on the very first page threw me for such a loop, I struggled to get into the rest of the book, and as it turned out, the book had nothing to do with the meaning of that word. I stuck with it for the sake of a virtual book club. Eventually I caught on to what was happening with the structure and the focal point of one particular day/night in young John’s life but this was a hard read for me.
- The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power — I have been wanting to read this forever and was glad to finally get my hands on a copy. It’s big – 550 pages of memoir meets journalistic reporting on life in war-torn countries plus genocide and then into politics, so whoa – that’s a lot of heavy stuff. But I have always enjoyed Power’s interviews in recent years and she is a great writer/reflector and I’m so glad she’s back into government work with the USAID.
- One Day in December by Josie Silver — Given the book’s title, I was surprised at how much time and content the story covered. Even though I found it predictable, I still enjoyed it as a quick, romance-y read and was interested in the character’s growth over time. I also found it more believable than the previous Silver book that I read last year, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.
- Conjure Woman by Afia Atakora — This would make an excellent book club choice in part because I have questions and ideas I want to bounce off others after reading it. Also, this is a debut novel?! Whoa. I can’t wait to read what she writes next! I love how the book jumps in time but not in giant leaps (for the most part); this builds the story and characters in such an intriguing way.
- Our Time is Now by Stacey Abrams — This was such an informative read. Granted, a fair bit of it went over my not-in-politics brain, but I also don’t think you have to have direct ties to politics to get something out of this book. It really speaks to our civic engagement in general which is so vital and important. It was interesting to read this given that the book was written before COVID-19 really hit and so that discussion along with the drama of mail-in voting that became our reality in 2020 was missing here (and about which, I am sure, other books will one day be written). It was also interesting to read this after Jan. 6 because that too feels like it plays a role in what Abrams had to say about voting and leaders and concerns for our democracy. All together, I learned a ton and I am so grateful that the Stacey Abrams of the world are out there to guide us and keep us going through it all. (finished 2.11.21)
- Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn — I grabbed this online because it was being offered as a community read from our library and it proved to be more than just a typical romance as it had some intrigue and mystery to the characters, too. It was the perfect palette cleanser read after some of the more dense books I’ve been tackling as of late.
- The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory — Sometimes a predictable, quick, romance-heavy book is just what you need to read and this series is so good for that. I actually read Book 2 last year, so I liked going back in time to the first and plan to read the subsequent ones later in the year. I like Jasmine Guillory’s style, but fair warning – these are Harlequin in nature so pick a different book if that’s not what you feel like reading.
- The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia — I loved the way this was written and the way the story unfolded. The in-depth discussion of the 1918 Spanish Influenza caught me off guard because I wasn’t prepared for how relatable that would feel to life in 2020/2021, but that was not the whole focus of the book by any means. Although I was confused by the shifting perspectives and occasional odd jumps in sequencing at first, once I hit a stride with this one, I couldn’t put it down.
- Tweet Cute by Emma Lord — This book was adorable. It’s a YA RomCom sort of read but it still caught me by surprise and delight while reading, which was great because it was witty and fun without being too obvious or over the top. (Finished 2/23/21)
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — This was neither light nor easy in terms of content but this book blew me away both in scope and style and I could not stop reading. I loved the approach of each chapter devoted to a new generation and how the stories and characters were woven together in this breathtaking, brutiful novel.
- Regretting You by Colleen Hoover — I expected this to be predictable and while it was, it was also a quick, enjoyable read and I liked some of the little nuggets that came at the end of the book in terms of life lessons. Also, if the characters had just freaking talked to each other, a lot of heartache and headaches would have been avoided, but then you also wouldn’t have had as much story to build, so, there’s that.
- The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah — Although a relatively quick read, this is not light in scope or subject matter. I got so drawn into these characters and was so compelled by their story of hardship and struggle in the Dust Bowl 1930s. Oddly there were lines throughout the book that were spot-on perfect for and relevant to today’s (pandemic) world. I’ve read at least three of Hannah’s books and all were serious but good and I highly recommend this one!
- Kindred by Octavia Butler — this surprised me in content and style and was truly unlike anything else I’ve read. While I’ve read many books that travel between narrators and time, I’ve never taken on a story that follows one narrator through time in this way. Ultimately this was an interesting story with an impactful look at slavery and racism ancestry, and history.
- You Have a Match by Emma Lord — The miscommunication between characters drove me a bit nuts at times but then that’s probably pretty spot-on for teenagers, so I get it. I love how Lord weaves family dynamics into her books and that the whole story isn’t just about crushes or partying or totally typical teenage drama. (finished 3.13.21)
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo — It took my editing brain a bit to calm down over the total lack of periods in this book, but once I got past that, I absolutely loved the characters and how this was written in interconnected trilogies that were multi-generational and so fascinating to watch (read) unfold. Loved it! Also, it had a totally unexpected connection to the book I read just prior to it which is always weird/cool when that happens.
- When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller — This was a great YA read that spoke so much to family dynamics and cultural backgrounds and young teendom. It was a quick read but I loved how it wove together in its own story the art, beauty, history, and magic that is story telling.
- The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion — Even though the basic premise stems from an obvious and somewhat irritating miscommunication, that’s actually pretty on point with these characters and this series which remains enjoyable and fun to read. I read the first book not that long ago so it was easy to fall back into rhythm on Book #2.
- Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo — This was far from a happy, light read, but it was very well done from a layered, unfolding sense of both the characters and the story that details not only relationships but also parenthood in raw, honest ways. I’ve read a number of Nigerian-based books recently and this one blew me away as a debut novel.
- The Archer by Paulo Coelho — A simple, short read that is, of course, layered with symbolism and meaning and told through a basic story that could be applied to connecting any action in life to one’s soul, not just archery. The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful. This could be read multiple times not just for dissection of meaning but also because it is such a brief book. (finished 3.22.21)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot — I didn’t expect this to be such a page-turner but even in the midst of the science, the story and reporting of this sucked me in and I couldn’t put down the book. I learned a lot about cell cultures as well as the rights, privacy, and privileges given to medical patients over the course of our nation’s history. Ultimately, I was blown away by the questions this true story revealed and raised.
- If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane — Although the basis of the meet-cute and subterfuge were remarkably similar to another book I read not that long ago, I still enjoyed the story and the way the twists and turns developed throughout the book. I also appreciate that every romance book doesn’t have to be Harlequin in nature.
- This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith — this one surprised me in how, devastatingly at times, human these characters were. I also struggled to suspend my disbelief at how the beginning of the story unfolded but from there it was a beautifully detailed look at how even a few days can leave a lasting impact and connection between people. And, on an odd side note, the basic premise for a marriage ending in this book was the exact same as what happened in the book I just finished reading. How does that even happen? (finished 3.30.21)
- The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory — I just praised a previous book for not being too “open door” and now I’m going to turn around a praise this one for being, well, perfectly open door in the way all of JG’s books have been. I read the first two books of this series out of order but that worked in my favor on Book 3 because the character carry over was more direct here and I liked that. For an it-is-what-it-is series, I really enjoy these!
- Vera by Carol Edgarian — It’s remarkable to read stories of survival after moments of devastating destruction and loss such as an earthquake + fire in the early 1900s which is the setting for this book. I liked how the story unfolded with a hyper focus on the days after followed by learning more of the story in a long arc sort of way beyond that. I ultimately was confused by a statement on page 1 that never did resolve (for me) in the rest of the book, which means either I missed something or something is missing. Either way, this would make for an interesting book club discussion.
- Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayern — To be fair this style is outside my normal comfort zone so this was just an OK read for me but that may just be because I no longer read thriller/fantasy books much if ever. This one seemed part Hunger Games, part Handmaid’s Tale, part Twilight (not really, there are no vampires, just odd, surreal and supernatural messed up fairy tale stuff) but I appreciated the concept of a fairy tale turned on its head and the overall message behind the quest. (finished 4.4.21)
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio — Love this book so much. This is a second read for me as my own 5th grader just read it and wanted to discuss with me and all I could remember was how much I liked it. Now I remember why and can’t wait to discuss it with him.
- The Turner House by Angela Flournoy — I loved the way this was written (focusing on roughly a third of the members of a family with 13 kids) both in terms of the present day storyline and then the periodic flashback chapters to the POV of each parent each time it happened. It was such a good look at big family life, life in Detroit, and just life in general. I LOVED the line “Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do.” and the paragraph that followed it all about how houses become homes that mean so much to the people who reside in them.
- Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall — This is a must-read and a must-read-again because the scope of everything being addressed within this book is wide and deserves to be given attention more than once. The subtitle on my copy is different from what is listed online; mine reads “notes from the women white feminists forgot” which is an accurate description of what the book entails.
- Behold the Dreamers by Imblo Mbue — These are characters and a story that crawl under your skin (in a good way) and settle in for longer than it takes to read the book. Set around the time of the 2008 Recession, this is written in such a tangible and honest way. It would make for an excellent book club discussion! (finished 4.15.21)
- The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd — from the onset I liked the premise of Ana, a young woman set on being a writer who shares her voice even though next to no one finds this acceptable. As the story unfolded, I especially appreciated her relationship to Jesus and how the whole concept of the book was imagining what it would have been like had he been married and how it really could have come to be without us knowing seeing as how the majority of women in history have been silenced/ignored. SMK’s Author’s Note at the end of the book speaks well to this in terms of her inspiration and why a story such as this is worth conceiving and sharing.
- Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra — I wanted to read this because I love Little Women but because I love Little Women, I struggled getting into this. I also really disliked the Meg/John storyline for the first half of the book (just talk to each other already!!!) but of course enjoyed Jo’s arc from start to finish. By the end, I was more drawn in to the whole story and could definitely appreciate the risks and liberties Kantra took when recreating this classic in a modern way.
- Pride by Ibi Zoboi — It has been ages since I read Pride and Prejudice so the story there wasn’t super fresh in my brain while reading this, but there was enough in my memory to see how Zoboi played with that framework and also how she made this her own. I loved the combination of romance then to the real world now and this detailed look at Bushwick and Brooklyn which I’ve read about in many books but have never been to in real life. (finished 4.23.21)
- Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory — I wasn’t prepared for the departure in the storyline to a different generation of love stories, but still enjoyed the ease and predictability of the book. Curious to see what Book 5 is like.
- The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile — This is my first foray into the full Enneagram and I learned a lot about myself as well as all nine types. I’m looking forward to learning more and will also be seeking out books on this subject that aren’t so faith-based; there’s nothing wrong with that element, but I also want to know more of the psychology behind each of these.
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb — I laughed, I cried, I learned something, I saw myself reflected in this book, and just like I think therapy is for all, so too do I think this is a must read. I loved this book about what it is like to be a therapist/what it is like to be in therapy and I think it would be a good introduction to anyone considering seeking therapy themselves. My only caveat is that Gottlieb speaks to the ending of therapy which may well indeed be the case for some/many, but not all; beyond that this is a break-your-heart open look into the lives of her patients, her therapist and herself. I loved it.
- The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth — Perhaps I’ve read too many SH books at this point as I’m getting a little too good at figuring out the twisty-twists well before the end of the book, but this one just didn’t hit quite as good as some of her others for me.
- Simple and Free by Jen Hatmaker — I appreciated the seven different tasks Jen took on in this book and it was very interesting to read now, ten+ years removed from when she first did them/wrote this. The asides/additions/corrections she placed into the new publication of this were insightful and gave a very unique perspective to how certain seasons and challenges in life shift over time. I will carry some nuggets forward from this book and see what I too can implement to make like a little more simple, a little more free. (finished 5.8.21)
- Hana Kahn Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin — As with Jalaluddin’s first book, I enjoyed this modern take on an older tale. This was a quick read and although it touched on several heavier topics throughout, it was also fun and charming.
- The Rose Code by Kate Quinn — I’ve stayed away from WWII books for a while after being overrun with them, but this was a fantastic choice for revisiting that subgenre. I was blown away by the pulls from real life that this took and even though I did not understand the decoding/machines they used, I found the story and its unfolding to be very intriguing.
- Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane — I liked the character development in this one and found it both entertaining (I laughed so hard at one point, I scared the hubs) and heartfelt with the layered story-telling and character reveals. I’m making a more conscious effort o read lighter rom-com type novels and this was a good one for just that.
- Mom Babble: The Messy Truth about Motherhood by Mary Katherine Backstrom — These short, bite-size essays are a great way to get a laugh, a little misty-eyed, and a dose of inspiration on motherhood, too. I’ve followed MK’s work for years and am happy for her and her book publication; she’s one of my favorites to follow on socials because she is so funny.
- Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile — Phenomenal. But you really need the audio and the hard copy to both hear and see the beauty that is this memor-ish (her words) book. (finished 5.31.21)
- A Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie — This book was so unlike what else I’ve been reading and I really appreciated both that and the view into the world of refugees and immigration that it gives. There is a sense of comedy and humor here which the author speaks to in the afterword, even though the subject(s) at hand is(are) quite real and serious. This one took me a while to finish but at no fault of the book itself.
- A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende — This was a fantastic read and oddly related (geographically and through refugee storylines) to my previous novel, but that perhaps made this all the more meaningful for me. I also couldn’t shake how much the stories of political division within the book echoed what I feel here in our present day. I loved following such a sweeping scope of the main characters’ lives and seeing both them and their loves evolve over time.
- The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy Reichert — I found myself confused by this simple read several times with both the family tree/timeline of past lives + the back-and-forth of the main relationship. I appreciated the way anxiety was featured within the book but the hot/cold/just fine without smooth transitions between events left me wondering more than once if I had missed something.
- Simmer Down by Sarah Smith — Girl meets boy with a side of Hawaii and food trucks (and steamy sex scenes and a helping of grief and mourning, too). This was just fine for a summer read. Being set in an off-the-beaten path venue with the unique cooking twist added to the fun.
- Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra — Even though I wasn’t enamored with Meg & Jo when I read it earlier this year (I think I’m too invested in and connected to those two characters from previous reads of Little Women), I picked up this sequel to give it a try and goodness, am I glad I did so. I enjoyed this book so much. I don’t know why exactly (beyond aforementioned emotional attachment, or rather, lack thereof) it was easier for me to see these two (little) women in a new and updated way but it was and I did and I liked it very much. I won’t give any spoilers except to say that I greatly appreciated Kantra’s modern depiction of Beth’s disease and illness. (finished 6.29.21)
51. The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa –The wedding planner/formally knowing each other side(s) of things made for an entertaining take on this standard romance read.
52. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry — I loved the way this was written and that it didn’t follow a classic story structure for romance or a beach read. The back and forth in time POV from the narrator was done in an unpredictable way which made the reading go so quickly and also kept me waiting to see what would(had) happen(ed) in a non-cloying way.
53. The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs — I liked the sort-of mystery that went along with this book and that it didn’t fall into beach read romance territory. The language of the various narration felt stilted to me at times and I actually thought more depth/something sinister was going on at first, but in the end, I appreciated the way things came together and how various storylines were completed. (finished 7/9/21)
54. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon — I got completely swept up in this YA read and couldn’t stop until I finished, all in one day. Told from a teenage perspective and obviously written pre-quarantine life, this one comes with much more than your typical teen angst/first love story and it is also so relatable after the last year and a half. I don’t know how Yoon writes such compelling novels but she’s 2/2 for me so far on being great reads!
55. The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult — This one comes with a giant * next to it because the entire time I was reading I kept thinking about how much I liked the way it was written, that is, until the final page and then I was just mad. I haven’t been that flabbergasted by a book’s ending for a long time if ever, so, if you’ve read it or do read it, message me because I need to discuss this with someone!
56. Dear Martin by Nic Stone — This should be required reading not just for high schoolers but all adults, too. The concept and the style of the writing both take center stage throughout the story development that is both compelling and heart wrenching.
57. Untamed by Glennon Doyle — second read of this one. Loved it even more than the first time. Probably going to need to reread this every year.
58. Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey — This is RomCom with a heavy side of raunch but the Rom and definitely the Com countered the heavy, um, petting to make this a delightful read. I literally laughed out loud multiple times during this book because it was that entertaining.
59. You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn — The he said/she said way in which this is written was great. I loved that each chapter was told from one perspective at a time and that those two sections of each chapter both overlapped and at times totally contradicted one another – this felt very true to two people narrating their shared experiences, especially about a relationship/marriage. (Finished 7.31.21)
60. One Two Three by Laurie Frankel — Read this book! It’s content and story unfolding are fantastic but also, the way it is written? The love of language that seeps out through the personalities of the three main characters/narrators? It’s all so well done. Read it! Then, let’s talk about it!
61. Love Her or Lose Her by Tessay Bailey — Again, these have some awfully steamy scenes in them (as one would expect from a series called Hot & Hammered, no?) but I also appreciate how Bailey took a struggling marriage and managed to turn that into a fun love story.
62. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant — second read of this incredible book and I loved it more than ever. I can’t remember if I read this before children or after the birth of my first but my goodness, either way, I wash I Hadn’t gone quite so long between re-reads. It is such a striking story about the power *of* story and women and how those two things both get lost and re forever woven together.
63. Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh — This was a fantastic read full of incredible detail and description, but was also, for me, quite relatable in the sense that Smarsh and I are of a similar age and I also grew up on a working farm in the Midwest. I did not experience the same level of poverty, upheaval, or instability as she did, but her narrative did an excellent job of opening up her childhood and putting the reader right in it which is a great gift (both to have as a writer and to receive as a reader).
64. Tools of Engagement by Tessa Bailey — Loved the third book in this trilogy and how Bailey once again managed to take a romance novel and infiltrate it with some legit real-life-ness such as toxic perfectionism and the foster system. Of course the main point is the hot and heavy romance but overall this whole series was not just steamy but also fun and sometimes funny.
65. Dial “A” for Aunties — by Jesse Q. Sutanto — This book was a wild ride and oh my goodness, I both wasn’t prepared for what was coming and also couldn’t stop reading to see what craziness was going to come next. A couple times I had a hard time suspending my disbelief at everything but I also was entertained and amused by the whole mess of it. All I can really say is, you have to read it to get it (and, I am stoked that there will be a sequel).
66. Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan — I love Kwan’s humor (and his footnotes) and this was a quick, fun read that was still over the top and rollicking but without quite so much family dynasty to follow as the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. A great end-of-summer read!
67. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan — There was more to this than I anticipated and in a good way. Of course it speaks to the behind-the-scene-life of the Royals but with some twists and turns that made it both easy/relatable to read and also fresh and fun in the storytelling.
68. American Street by Ibi Zoboi — Eye and heart opening, this is the kind of book that pulls you in, teaches you about life and humanity, honors culture and spirituality, and still keeps you turning pages to see what comes next and what other piece of the story is still waiting to be told. Zoboi is a masterful story-teller.
69. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman — I enjoy Waxman’s books so much; my only complaint is that they go by too quickly and I always finish too soon! The characters were great and the underlying humanity within the storylines was also so good; for a book that made me literally laugh out loud multiple times, there were also a lot of serious questions and situations happening. (OK, one actual complaint: I call BS on some of the timelines here in regards to plants and gardens, but whatever…I’m no expert either so maaaaybe?)
70. American Royals by Katherine McGee — I am enjoying this Royal trend I’m currently exploring and this was another good little escape from reality as this takes American history and turns it right on its head in every (sovereign) possible way. After binge watching The Crown earlier this summer, I couldn’t help but think this fell right in line with “real” (or at least, made-for-TV-real) royal drama.
71. The Push by Ashley Audrain — Goodness. This book is beyond intense in both challenging and very interesting ways. All to do with motherhood – what comes before to make a mother and what comes in the actual moments of mothering and how to deal with those you are given to mother – this one pries into some dark and disturbed places. That said, I couldn’t get over the raw honesty of the struggle within it, too. I love the layered meanings of the title and the way the chapters are written in such short but powerful bursts.
72. HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes — a friend loaned me their copy of this after I shared with them about my new-found obsession over The Crown and it was such a treat to read. The visuals are beautiful and the book goes beyond just the surface of the clothes to really look at the lives, struggles, and impacts of these women. At times I found myself wanting more, pictures and detail of their significance, but of course no book could cover it all, especially given the scope of time and influence these four have had. (finished 9.7.21)
73. That Summer by Jennifer Weiner — I wasn’t prepared for the subject matter on this one but greatly appreciated the way JW took on this topic and the way in which she wrote about it. The story unfolded like a mystery and was certainly a page-turner. I found myself unsure of how it play out up until the very end of the book, which was helped by the style of writing from different POVs and different times in a very nonlinear approach.
74. The Soul of a Woman by Isabel Allende — This book is fire and full of wisdom, truth, and honesty about what it is to be a woman in this world. Part memoir, part manifesto, there were so many lines I wanted to highlight, but alas, this was a library copy, so I had to savor and move on to the next beautifully worded nugget and then the next.
75. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall —
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Dear Justyce by Nic Stone
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Ordinary Light by Tracy Smith
Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Janye Allen
Queenie by Candice Carty Williams
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
A Song Below Water by Bethany Morrow
I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillian
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Well, That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey
A Black Woman’s History of the United States by Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross