Did you finish the 2021 Reading Challenge? With a book for every week, here are all 52 books I read this year for my 2021 Reading Challenge.
A few days before Thanksgiving, I looked at the books stacked on my nightstand and realized I still had two books to read to finish the 2021 Reading Challenge. One of which was over 1,000 pages long.
How embarrassing would that have been to have failed my own reading challenge?!
Admittedly, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I didn’t finish. I always tell people that the Booklist Queen Reading Challenge is more about the journey than the destination. There’s no prize for finishing all 52 categories. The reading challenge is just a means to focus your reading efforts to increase your reading and read more diversely.
But, still, I would never live it down if I didn’t finish. I picked the categories, for goodness sake.
If you’re curious, here are all 52 books I read this year. Some were excellent, some were terrible, but all satisfied a reading challenge category.
Now I’m off to start planning my books for the 2022 Reading Challenge!
1. A Productivity Book
The Checklist Manifesto
Whether you are a list kind of person or not, Atul Gawande will convert you to the power of checklists. Using fascinating stories, he’ll show you that the power of checklists helps make complex systems more manageable. Gawande explores how checklists have revolutionized air travel and construction, Using the same methods, he explains how he was able to introduce the same remarkable benefits in a surgical checklist and focuses on why such a powerful tool is often disregarded. A quick read, The Checklist Manifesto has the same investigative reporting feel I love to read, similar to Malcolm Gladwell or Charles Duhigg.
2. Book Becoming Movie in 2021
On the order of the Emperor, Paul Atreides, the heir apparent of the House of Atreides, and his family take control of the desert planet Arrakis, the source of the most sought-after commodity in the galaxy. But power like that breeds many enemies who will stop at nothing to take over Arrakis. Mixing politics, religion, and mysticism with a whole lot of adventure, Dune is a class of science fiction all its own, sending you on an epic journey in this renowned science fiction novel.
After hearing positive reviews of the movie, my husband and I decided to go see it with my parents. I first read my sci fi loving dad’s battery paperback copy of Dune as a teenager and had forgotten so much of the story that I rushed to reread the book before I went. By the way, the movie was excellent, staying true to the book while impressing you with awe-inspiring visuals. Even my father was impressed, and that’s saying something.
Upon rereading the novel, I was as captivated as ever by the complicated political intrigue throughout the story. However, whether you like the book or not will depend on how well you enjoy the heavy dose of mysticism and philosophy that slows down the plot and gives it such a unique feel.
3. Goodreads Winner in 2020
When you think of castes, India’s strict caste system likely comes to mind. In Caste, Wilkerson argues that America has its own hidden caste system, a hierarchy that has influenced the United States both historically and currently. On top of race and class, Wilkerson points out that our understanding of caste systems must also change if we are to better ourselves as a nation.
I’m not at all surprised Caste has spent almost a year on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Wilkerson does an excellent job methodically breaking down how caste systems work and why the United States perfectly fits the criteria. Comparing and contrasting the US to India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson will give you plenty to think about in her eye-opening book.
The Man. The Myth. The Legend. No one held more of a mystique than Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. The iPod, iPhone, and Mac have revolutionized how we think of personal devices with innovative design and an almost cult-like following. Although revered for his innovation, Steve Jobs was a notoriously difficult person to work with. In this exclusive biography, Walter Issacson holds nothing back as he looks at Jobs’s full life through the juxtaposition of Job’s ability to change the world and his problematic personality.
5. About a Pressing Social Issue
The Sum of Us
Why do so many people think of racism as a zero-sum game where advances for minorities only come at harm for the majority? With a specialty in studying the economy, Heather McGhee takes an extensive look at how racism hurts us all. McGhee looks at the root of the problem and the incalculable costs of racism and paints a brighter vision for America.
As with most books about racism, McGhee makes plenty of powerful points about how race affects America much more than we might even imagine. Yet, I didn’t love McGhee’s style of conveying the information. The personal stories in each chapter didn’t often coordinate well with the corresponding theme and McGhee’s conclusion was a jump instead of a natural extension of her work.
6. A Book About Books
The Thirteenth Fairy
Melissa de la Cruz
Nothing ever happens in North Pasadena, California. But one day as Filomena Jefferson-Cho is walking to the bookstore to get the thirteenth book in her favorite fairy tale series, Filomena finds herself face to face with characters from the books – Jack Stalker and Alistair. Soon Filomena finds herself pulled into Never After in a battle against the ogres.
I was rather surprised when the first book in the Never After series showed up at my door because I don’t review middle-grade fiction. However, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to start reading aloud to my children each night. I thought the story was fine, nothing especially noteworthy but a fun twist on the fairy tales. My children, on the other hand, loved it. They were enthralled with the adventures and can’t wait for the next book to come out in December.
7. Set in the 1920s
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
In December 1926, the mystery novelist Agatha Christie disappeared. After an 11 day manhunt, the infamous author suddenly reappears, claiming no memory of what happened. Marie Benedict’s new novel imagines Christie’s disappearance as a mind game against her cheating husband. Chapters alternate between Mrs. Christie recounting her life and marriage leading up to that fateful day and Mr. Christie dealing with the fall out of her disappearance, in which he is the prime suspect.
From what I’ve researched, the novel is decently accurate to Christie’s life, which I appreciated. I loved learning more about her life, though you really come to loathe her husband. However, the chapters from Mr. Christie’s point of view dragged, pulling the novel down with them. Overall, the story is interesting but falls short of being as compelling as I would have liked.
8. An Author Who Uses Initials
Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris
Jack and Grace seem to be the perfect couple. He’s a high-powered attorney who defends abused women and she’s the perfect housewife. Yet looks can be deceiving, Grace is a prisoner in her own house, forced to act as Jack sees fit. As the day nears for Grace’s sister with Down Syndrome to move in with them, Grace must find a way to negate Jack’s leverage and escape.
Although I spent the whole novel wanting to yell at Grace to just act, Paris does an excellent job making this implausible scenario feel plausible. Compulsively readable, Behind Closed Doors is the perfect psychological thriller if you want fast-paced action you can’t put it down.
Laurie Halse Anderson
Bestselling poet Laurie Halse Anderson writes her memoir in free verse in this powerful tale of surviving sexual assault. Twenty years after writing the fictional story Speak, Anderson is stunned at how little has changed. Sharing deeply personal stories, Shout is perfect for the “Me Too” era. I’m not a fan of poetry, but listening to the audiobook made the poems come alive – adding pauses and inflections.
10. 2020 Bestseller
In an award-winning piece of literary fiction, Maggie O’Farrell imagines the life of William Shakespeare’s wife. Since almost everything about her is forgotten to history, O’Farrell has free reign in imagining Agnes as a fierce and misunderstood woman, who marries a poor Latin tutor, the son of a disgraced businessman.
While flashing back to Agnes and William’s past, the crux of the story focuses on the death of their son Hamnet, showing the endless depths of grief of a mother who loses a child and imagining how Hamnet’s death influenced Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet, written just four years later.
Hamnet is a slow enveloping read which focuses more on atmosphere than plot. O’Farrell consciously chose to never mention William Shakespeare by name, which I thought was an interesting omission. I loved the lyrical narration which keeps you slightly removed from the story, but readers who don’t love literary fiction will probably find Hamnet overrated.
11. Recommended by a Colleague
People We Meet on Vacation
Poppy and Alex have been best friends forever even though she’s a wild child full of wanderlust and he’s an introverted bookworm. Although she lives in New York City and he still lives in their hometown, every year they take a week-long vacation together. Until two years ago, when their trip ended in a falling out. Now Poppy convinces Alex to take one final vacation with her in an attempt to fix their relationship … and maybe even fall in love.
Emily Henry’s latest release has been hailed as the summer’s best beach read, so I decided to pick up a copy. Henry is a good writer, and I enjoyed People We Meet on Vacation despite my general lack of enthusiasm for romances. The “will they/won’t they” aspect carries the novel forward and I loved seeing Poppy and Alex’s relationship. However, the stunning lack of communication between the characters really started to grate on me by the end of the book.
12. With a Number in the Title
Company of One
Sometimes what’s best for your business is to remain small instead of seeking endless growth. Jarvis shows you how to run a company of one – a company that uses productivity, automation, and customer relationships to run a successful business that allows room for your preferred lifestyle. Since I do run a company of one with no plans to become a media empire, I was hoping Jarvis’s book would have great practical tips and tricks. Instead, the book is mostly about mindset, which quickly became repetitive.
13. Bottom of Your To-Read List
When Fiver gets a premonition of danger, Hazel leads a group of bunnies to establish a new warren in the English countryside while facing predators, men, and neighboring rabbit tribes. Richard Adams’s modern classic has been on my to-read list for years, but I’ve honestly been avoiding it. I kept confusing it with Redwall, so I thought it was about rabbits fighting with swords.
Nope, it’s just a story about bunnies. An extremely compelling story about bunnies that hooked me from the first chapter. Actually, from the introduction. Watership Down is not an allegory but a simple adventure tale Adams told to his daughters on a long road trip. Fun for adults and children alike, Watership Down is the perfect audiobook to listen to at any age and was just the ticket when I had my concussion.
14. Reread a Favorite Book
The Great Alone
In honor of my trip to Alaska last month, I decided to reread Kristin Hannah’s bestseller set in the untamed wilds of Alaska, which I found just as captivating my second time through. A recently returned Vietnam War POW, Ernt Allbright decides to move his family to the Alaskan frontier. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers and just what Ernt needs. But when the harsh Alaskan winter approaches and Ernt’s mental state begins to deteriorate, his wife and daughter must fight to survive.
15. Own Voices Story
Fifteen years after their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family still keenly feels his death. Combining the real and the spiritual, The Removed highlights the deep scars trauma causes to a family. Maria struggles to handle her husband’s growing dementia when a foster child who reminds them of Ray-Ray enters their lives. Older sister Sonja switches between a lonely existence and obsessive romance while younger brother Edgar has fallen into drug addiction.
The Removed is a hard book for me to review. First off, it’s a very literary work and I wanted to love it, but it just didn’t reach the levels I expected. The most compelling storyline was of the parents; those chapters and the mythology sections hinted at Hobson’s brilliance. However, I wanted the ending to tie it all together into some powerful message, and instead, it left me unsatisfied.
16. Published in the 1800s
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Largely forgotten and believed to be a work of fiction, historians in the 1980s finally proved that Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was Harriett Jacobs’s memoir of her life as a slave. Told in a brilliantly clear and compelling narrative, Jacob shines the light on the hypocrisy and sexual abuse inherent in master-slave relationships. Eventually, Jacobs escapes, living in hiding in an attic for seven years before moving to the North. Written as a plea to Northern women against the ills of slavery, Jacobs’s memoir is fascinating and a must-read classic.
17. Local Author
In a Holidaze
With her love life in shatters, Maelyn Jones is devastated to find this will be her last Christmas spent at her family friend’s snowy Utah cabin. As she drives away, a car crash sends her into a time loop to relive the same Christmas vacation over and over again. Now, instead of a drunken make out with one brother, she can finally confess her feelings for the other. And maybe save the cabin along the way.
My blogging friends convinced me I needed to read In a Holidaze since it’s set in Utah. Overall, the story is cute with a good tempo and a dash of steam. I thought it was much better than The Honey-Don’t List, the only other Christina Lauren book I’ve read. If you are looking for an escapist holiday romance, this definitely fits the bill.
18. Longer Than 400 Pages
The Signal and the Noise
Why do most predictions, even those from experts, fail? From earthquakes to poker to political elections, statistician Nate Silver uses interesting case studies to explain probability and uncertainty and to demonstrate why predictions are often wrong. Though the book is numbers-heavy and a little too long, Silver does a great job simplifying the information for the average reader.
19. A Book Turned into a TV Series
In 1974, Kate Mularkey becomes best friends with the cool new girl at school, Tully Hart. As Tully becomes a celebrity news anchor and Kate chooses to be a stay-at-home mom, their friendship full of love, jealousy, anger, and laughter will shape their lives over the next three decades. I loved the dynamics of the relationship between Kate and Tully, watching them renegotiate their friendship and struggle with their codependency as they each grew in different directions. If you are looking for a great book club book to discuss with your girlfriends, Firefly Lane would be an excellent choice.
20. A Book That Makes You Think
Just like we refresh our wardrobe from time to time, we need to routinely reexamine our beliefs and ways of thinking. Often our beliefs become habits, and Grant argues that being too attached to one identity and thought process can kill our creativity. Instead, we need to start spending as much time rethinking as we do thinking. Grant is an excellent writer and he does a superb job keeping you engaged as he discusses thought-provoking concepts. However, I felt his stories tended toward the why without much how, limiting its usability in real life.
21. A WWII Story
Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book details the life of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner who even shook hands with Hitler at the Berlin Olympics. Shot down in the Pacific Ocean in 1943, Lt. Zamperini managed to survive on a life raft for 47 days only to be found by the Japanese. Lt. Zamperini’s resilience will amaze you as he struggles to survive life as a Japanese prisoner for almost three years. Hillenbrand’s superb writing brings Zamperini’s tale to life while also helping you understand the historical context. A fascinating read for anyone who loves to read WWII history and memoirs.
22. A Highly Anticipated Book
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid has done it again with the must-read book of the summer. In 1983, four famous siblings throw an epic summer party at their Malibu mansion. Secrets come out, the party gets out of control, and a fire will burn it all down by dawn. Malibu Rising is a gorgeous family drama that surpasses a simple beach read. The story of the Riva children abandoned by their famous rockstar father is heartbreakingly sad and yet still hopeful. The characters come alive as each sibling ponders if they can escape their parents’ fates. An all-around brilliant read that belongs on your summer reading list.
23. Eye-Catching Cover
We Are the Brennans
After a car accident caused by her drunk driving, Sunday Brennan returns to her large Irish family in New York. Five years earlier, she had abandoned them and her high school sweetheart with no explanation. Determined to rebuild her relationships, Sunday is startled when a man threatens the family’s business and forces the family to confront painful mistakes.
We Are the Brennans is my new favorite book of 2021. Tracey Lange hit it out of the park with this family drama reminiscent of Ask Again, Yes. After reading it, I couldn’t stop pondering the character’s motivations and decisions, and debating how my feelings would have changed if the author had tweaked different characters. Delving into the ways guilt and shame can affect our interactions, We Are the Brennans is a brilliant book club book that I know I will be recommended for years to come.
24. A Summer Read
The Invisible Husband of Frick Island
Just in time for summer comes this year’s perfect beach read. On the remote Frick Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, Piper Parrish had a perfect life – until her husband died. But Piper kept carrying on, acting as if he was still alive, and the townsfolk decided to play along with the grieving widow. When an ambitious podcaster arrives in town, he feels like he has the story of a lifetime, until he starts to fall in love with Piper. With quirky characters, a cute love story, and thoughtful plot twists, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island is a poignant story about grief and the things we’ll do for those we love.
25. Coming of Age Story
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
Born with red eyes, Sam Hill has been called the “Devil Boy” all his life. Reflecting on his life, Sam realizes that his childhood friendship with two other misfits – Ernie Cantwell, the only African American boy at his school, and Mickie Kennedy, a firestorm in the form of a girl – has defined and shaped his extraordinary life. Dugoni’s touching coming-of-age tale was captivating from the first page with its story of friendship and acceptance of what life throws at us.
26. Bestselling Memoir
A new memoir from the owner and chef of an acclaimed restaurant in Maine tells of the challenges of finding your voice and rebuilding a life. Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French fell in love with food while working at her father’s diner. After dropping out of college when she became pregnant, French eventually established her own successful restaurant. When a crumbling marriage and addiction cause her to lose it all, French manages to slowly rebuild her personal and culinary life and find solace in the food she loves. A stunning memoir, French’s down-to-earth writing will cut straight to anyone’s heart while foodies her will love her luscious culinary descriptions.
27. Book Club Favorite
We Were the Lucky Ones
Georgia Hunter dives into her family history with the epic true story of the Kurc family. During World War 2, almost all of the Polish Jews were killed, but somehow the Kurc family were the lucky ones who all managed to survive. Hunter follows Nechuma and Sol Kurc and their five grown children as they are separated by war, facing unimaginable atrocities, and yet eventually reuniting together. It took me a while to really get into the story, but once I was hooked, I found this true story to be extremely moving.
28. A Book About Friendship
In Red Hook, Brooklyn during the early 1900s, Sofia and Antonia are best friends and neighbors, members of “The Family,” the local Italian mafia. When Antonia’s father is disappeared, a wedge develops between the girls that will affect them as they grow older and begin to question the demands of their “family.”
The Family is at heart a story about female friendship and motherhood. Close-knit as children, Sofia and Antonia drift as teenagers only to find connection again as new mothers. The 1930s Mafia serves as a backdrop to the story, serving to anchor the characters together, but The Family is much more Firefly Lane than The Godfather, which I enjoyed but others might not.
29. An Audiobook
The Hiding Place
Corrie Ten Boom
What would you do if you noticed your neighbors suddenly disappearing? A quiet old maid living with her older sister and elderly father, Corrie ten Boom knew that she had to act. Her family joined the Dutch Underground and built a secret room to hide Jews within, for which they were to pay the ultimate price.
I could have listened to the audiobook narration of The Hiding Place all day, as entranced as I was by the gentle life of a clockmaker’s daughter even before the war comes into play. However, Corrie ten Boom’s account really becomes heartrending when she describes how her faith sustained her during her year in prison.
30. Set in Australia
Apples Never Fall
It should be the golden years for Stan and Joy Delaney now that they’ve sold their tennis academy and settled into retirement, so why aren’t they happy? When they welcome a bleeding stranger into their home, her arrival begins a cascade of events. Now Joy is missing, and the four grown Delaney children wonder if their father might have done it.
I adored Liane Moriarty’s latest domestic thriller. I was completely invested in the complicated relationships between the Delaney family members and did not see the big twist coming. However, I can understand why Apples Never Fall is getting mixed reviews. At almost 500 pages, the story is longer than it needed to be, especially the excessive denouement, and if you don’t like the twist or the characters, you’ll feel like you wasted a big chunk of your time.
31. By a Nobel Prize Winner
Klara and the Sun
In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro ponders the meaning of love through an unusual narrator. Klara is a robot, an Artificial Friend waiting to be bought and taken home to be a companion to a lonely child. Ishiguro’s brilliant writing brings Klara to life, with her keen observations about the world around her, forcing you to piece together complex situations as perceived through the lens of innocence. The story was just shy of being amazing like The Remains of the Day; it didn’t quite have the depth I wanted. However, if you want a thoughtful read, you can’t go wrong with Ishiguro’s newest release.
32. About an Immigrant
Qian Julie Wang
When Qian was seven years old, her family immigrated to the United States. As her parents struggled to cope with the transition from respected professors to “illegal” sweatshop laborers, Qian tries to find her place in a new world. Highlighting the dichotomy of coming to America for free speech but being afraid to speak, this moving coming-of-age memoir really brought home the reality of the immigrant experience in the US.
33. Time Travel Novel
Oona Out of Order
On New Year’s Eve in 1982, Oona Lockhart is faced with a life-changing decision: travel abroad to continue her studies in London or pursue fame as a member of her boyfriend’s rock band. As the clock strikes midnight and Oona turns 19, she faints and wakes up as a fifty-year-old. Thus begins the mixed-up time travel life of Oona, where every year she gets to randomly experience her life at different stages.
I have to say, Oona Out of Order has one of the most inventive premises I’ve read in a while. The time travel concept allowed Montimore to explore if we can change our destiny while having fun highlighting the differences between decades. The writing itself was above average, though not exceptional, making it worth a read if you are in the mood for something a little different.
34. An Author You Love
The Death of Mrs. Westaway
Struggling to make ends meet, Hal Westaway is startled to receive a letter saying she is a beneficiary to the estate of her grandmother. Although she knows it’s a case of mistaken identity, Hal decides to try to use her greatest asset – her ability to read people – in a desperate attempt to claim some of the money.
Having now read all of Ruth Ware’s thrillers, I have to say The Death of Mrs. Westaway is one of my favorites. I loved the twists and turns, and while the ending was a tad predictable, I thought she timed her reveals well to keep the story from growing stale. The atmosphere was just what I wanted from a creepy read – a gothic house, a dysfunctional family, and layers of secrets.
35. Childhood Favorite
Because of Winn-Dixie
The summer Opal and her father, the Preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the local Winn-Dixie supermarket and comes out with a dog. Quickly, Opal (and everyone else) falls in love with the enchanting stray with a big smile. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal breaks out of her shell, befriending both children and adults in her new hometown. Mixing deeper themes about life with charming childhood antics, Because of Winn-Dixie is a classic children’s book perfect for a read-aloud.
36. Classic Read in High School
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American novel serves as the quintessential work of the Jazz Age. As the narrator enters the world of Long Island’s fabulously wealthy, we meet the mysterious Jay Gatsby and the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. I love this book more every time I read it; this short but memorable book is one that everyone should read in their lifetime.
37. Borrowed From the Library
Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos
Known as “The Father of Stealth,” Ben Rich was the second director of Lockheed’s Skunk Works and was crucial in the development of the F-117, the first stealth airplane. Rich’s memoir gives you a fascinating look at one of the aerospace industry’s elite companies and an inside peek into the development of such renowned airplanes as the U-2 and SR-71. With segments from pilots, military members, and other individuals involved in the programs, Skunk Works is a captivating read for any aviation enthusiast.
38. Nonfiction New York Times Bestseller
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Raising questions about privacy, medical research, and ethics, Rebecca Skloot spent more than a decade researching the history of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells. Just before her death from cervical cancer, Henrietta Lack’s cells were taken without her permission and scientists figured out how to keep them alive indefinitely. The created cell line was then used for countless medical research. Interspersing the history of Henrietta’s family, who can’t even afford medical insurance, with the medical use of her cells which created a billion-dollar industry, Skloot has penned a memorable work.
39. From an Indie Publisher
Stephanie Marie Seferian
Instead of simply decluttering and then refilling your house only to declutter again, Seferian wants you to break the consumption cycle. Blending minimalist living with an eco-friendly lifestyle, Sustainable Minimalism gives tips and suggestions to lower your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of waste you produce.
Similar to Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home without being quite as judgemental, Seferian acknowledges the privilege needed to enact many eco-friendly measures, yet encourages you to start with small affordable steps. While some of her remarks are pretty extreme (no more air travel, foraging for food), she focuses her attention on more actionable items like composting and alternatives to single-use plastics.
In the 7th book in the Green Rider series, Sir Karigan G’ladheon is making her way back to Sacor City after her eventful mission to the North. Although plagued by nightmares and self-doubt after being tortured, Karigan must continue to risk all for king and country as the Second Empire makes a final bid to attack the kingdom.
Fantasy isn’t generally my genre of choice, but I got hooked on the Green Rider series after the birth of my youngest, reading all six (gigantic) books in about a week. I’ve heard that this is the penultimate book in the series, and I have to admit that I am just as hooked now as I was when I started. In Winterlight, fans of the series will be pleased as Britain keeps up a constant stream of action while diving into the psychological toll of Karigan’s many adventures. While the loose threads from the other books are mentioned, the focus is on Karigan and King Zachary taking on the Second Empire.
41. A Sequel
Our Violent Ends
In the sequel to last year’s must-read YA fantasy, These Violent Delights, Shanghai is on the brink of revolution. To prevent her cousin from usurping her position, Juliette knows the best way to protect Roma is to make him hate her. Thinking that Juliette murdered his cousin, Roma is on the warpath as a new monstrous danger emerges in the city just as the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists comes to a head.
In the sequel, Gong steps back from the monster aspect of the first story to almost exclusively focus on the will-or-won’t-they aspect of Roma and Juliette. Then once the two inevitably get together, the plot rushes through the ending, attempting to tie up all loose ends quickly. In all, Our Violent Ends was your typical YA sequel, delivering more of the same story, which will keep fans happy, but failing to add any more depth to the narrative.
42. Recommended by a Librarian
The Dutch House
Shortly after World War II, a real estate mogul buys The Dutch House, a lavish estate outside of Philadelphia. This purchase changes everything for his children, Danny and Maeve – driving out their mother, and leading to Cyril’s remarriage and their exile from the house by their stepmother. A captivating study of the bond between siblings, The Dutch House shows the dangers of obsessive nostalgia and fascinates with Patchett’s signature style.
43. Psychological Thriller
The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Just days away from her wedding to her charmingly attentive rich fiance, Nellie feels like someone might be following her. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Vanessa is obsessed with her replacement and desperate to stop the wedding. You might think you know how this domestic thriller will end, but appearances can be deceiving. In their first collab, Hendricks and Pekkanen have plenty of tricks up their sleeve, keeping the plot twisting and you second-guessing how it’s all going to end. A roller coaster ride of fun if you love thriller books.
44. Oprah Winfrey Book Club Pick
In a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son set off on a journey through the devastated remains of civilization with only a pistol to protect themselves. With gorgeous prose and simplistic style, McCarthy vividly paints a bleak picture of life in a world with no hope. I was captivated by the audiobook, and know that this short Pulitzer Prize-winning story will stick with me for a long time.
45. A Book About Technology
Technology reporter Sarah Frier gives an in-depth look at the social media giant Instagram. When creating Instagram, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger wanted to blend art and technology. From its founding days to its explosive growth and purchase by Facebook, Frier shows how Instagram became an unlikely success story that has changed how we perceive social media.
As a blogger, I found Instagram’s history and push-and-pull with Facebook interesting, but I think some readers will find the story dull since there is no inherent drama in the telling. Frier does raise some thought-provoking philosophical questions about how social media shapes our world but leaves it to the reader to consider what, if anything, can be done about them.
46. Title With Three Words
Rules of Civility
On New Year’s Eve 1937, Katey Kontent and her roommate Eve Ross meet a handsome young banker named Tinker Grey. Over the next year, Katey’s friendship with Tinker will introduce her to the upper echelons of Manhattan society, altering the course of her life. Despite its gorgeous prose and enveloping setting, I didn’t love this one quite as much as I expected, feeling it lacked the spark of A Gentleman in Moscow. Don’t get me wrong, Rules of Civility is certainly worth a place on your reading list.
47. Debut Novel of a Famous Author
Amid the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra, Australia, is rocked by a murder-suicide in a local family. For the first time since he was run out of town as a teen, Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns home for the funeral. The parents of his best friend are convinced their son could not have murdered his family and Falk agrees to help the local sheriff investigate in this compulsive mystery that will draw you in from the very first page.
48. Genre You Don’t Usually Read
These Violent Delights
Chloe Gong’s debut young adult novel is a clever retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In 1920s Shanghai, a blood feud between two rival gangs causes chaos in the city. Eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai has returned home to embrace her place as heir to the Scarlet Gang. When a contagion starts sweeping the streets, Juliette must work with her first love, Roma Montagov from the rival gang, to solve the mystery.
Chloe Gong’s historical fantasy was rich with detail, bringing 1920s Shanghai to life. I loved the vibrancy of the characters, as they struggle between love and loyalty. My biggest qualm was that the story was so bloody. A contagion causes people to randomly claw out their own throats, which was a bit gory for my taste. Yet, the overall story was delightful entertaining new young adult series.
49. A Book Everyone is Talking About
The Lost Apothecary
In 1791, Nella uses her London apothecary shop to sell poisons for women to use against abusive men. The only rules are that the poisons cannot be used against another woman and that you must leave a record in the apothecary’s register. When she befriends a 12-year-old girl, her rules will be tested and the consequences will last generations.
I fell right into Sarah Penner’s gorgeous historical fiction novel, loving the connection between Nella, the killer apothecary, and Eliza, the curious servant wanting to learn more. Unlike many stories with a historical/modern alternating structure, I felt the modern-day tale of a woman dealing with a cheating husband worked well with the feminist themes throughout the book. A beautifully rich novel that would be a great one for a book club discussion.
50. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read
Who is John Galt? Ayn Rand’s modern classic tells the (extremely long) tale of Dagny Taggart, an heir to the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad who will do anything she can to keep her family’s railroad running. As Dagny and fellow industrialist Henry Reardon struggle to stay afloat amid public outcry against greed, industry, and productivity, Rand uses her story to explain her philosophy of Objectivism.
Atlas Shrugged is long. Like extremely long. Every one of the 1,000+ pages takes twice as long to read as a normal book because the material is so dense. It’s also a hard book to review. I found the basic story of Dagny’s fight for her railroad to be utterly compelling. Despite Rand’s long philosophical passages, I still enjoyed the first half of the book. I liked that Atlas Shrugged made you think about economics and politics.
Yet, over time, the book just wears you down. Rand does not seem to understand nuance – in characters or in her philosophy. Everything is black and white and taken to the extreme. Which means it all breaks down in reality. Her libertarian utopia is so flawed it’s laughable and her views on gender and sex are pretty bizarre. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t plan to ever read it again.
51. Borrowed From a Friend
The Winter People
In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found brutally murdered in the cornfield behind her house just months after her daughter’s tragic death. In the present day living in Sara’s former farmhouse, nineteen-year-old Ruthie comes home one night to find her mother has vanished. Now Ruthie finds she might be the only one capable of keeping history from repeating itself. McMahon’s modern-day ghost story is a chilling reminder that the dead never truly leave us. A fun atmospheric read for any fan of spooky books.
52. 2021 New Release
A Million Reasons Why
Sela is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. She’s possibly found the perfect match; but how do you turn someone else’s life upside down by revealing that you are her previously unknown half-sister, the product of her father’s affair? As Sela begins to connect with Caroline, she must decide which she wants more – a sister or a kidney.
Jessica Strawser’s family drama was my surprise favorite of the March 2021 book releases. I absolutely loved the complicated relationship between Sela and Caroline. Each woman was realistic and nuanced, trying her best to navigate an unexpected situation while dealing with the choices of their parents. If you love women’s fiction, you can’t miss this thought-provoking tearjerker.
Did you finish the 2021 Reading Challenge? What were your favorite books you read?