Favorite Reads of 2021

As we kick off a new year, I like to reflect on what I have read during the previous year.  And for the third year in a row, I kept track of the books I read, for a grand total of 30. That is down a little from last year, but I started several things that I read half way through and then quit reading, so I am still pretty happy with it. 

Of those thirty titles, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorites.  Below are my top eight picks, in no particular order:

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel – Upon finishing this book, I knew it was going to be my top pick for 2021 – BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR!  And really, truly it is.  It is the story of a family – Penn, Rosie, Roo, Ben, Rigel, Orion, and Claudie Walsh-Adams.  With five boys Penn and Rosie barely have a spare minute, but they are caring, thoughtful parents who encourage their children to be independent thinkers, dreamers, and ultimately, whoever they want to be.  This is no different with their youngest, Claude, even when he wants to wear dresses, carry a purse, and play with Barbies.  They have always told him, and his siblings, they can grow up to be whoever they want to be; and what Claude wants most is to be a girl.  Penn and Rosie support this, but they struggle with how to help Claude transition to Poppy and keep her safe.  At its simplest this book is about a family that has to make some tough decisions as they grow, learn, and support each other, but really it is so much more thanks to Frankel’s beautiful writing and accessible storytelling style. The way she frames and tells the story made this book extra special to me. It really spoke to my heart. Do not miss this one, it is powerful.

THE FIREKEEPERS DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley – Boulley’s debut novel has been getting noticed all year – from numerous starred reviews to high acclaim on best book lists to having the production rights purchased by High Ground the Obama’s movie company.  The buzz is real! Marketed as a title for older teens, but with much crossover appeal for adults, it is the story of Daunis Fontaine, a girl who has never felt like she fits in.  On one side she has her native, firekeeper heritage and on the other her white, French heritage; she has always felt like an outsider in both worlds.  She navigates this with the help of her best friend Lily, but after Lily is murdered Daunis finds herself at the center of an FBI investigation focusing on exposing the drug trade in her hometown and on the reservation.   Complicating things further is a new-to-town, hockey-playing hottie and unanswered questions about her uncle’s recent death.  I could not put this book down and highly recommend it. Not only was the mystery/thriller elements compelling, but Boulley’s spotlight on Native American culture was a highlight. This book is a gem. 

THE GUNCLE by Steven Rowley – Despite the serious themes of this book – loss, death and grief – I smile every time I think of it.  Much of my smile has to do with Rowley’s ability to create well drawn, flawed, yet loveable characters, but it also with the upbeat, fun nature of the book.  Patrick, or GUP (gay Uncle Pat) for short has been hiding out from his former actor life in Palms Springs, but his life is quickly changed when his nine-year-old niece Maisie and six-year-old nephew Grant come to stay with him temporarily, after they suffer a huge lose. GUP is not used to having kids around full time, however, the time he spends with them gives each of them, including GUP, exactly what they need to heal and grow.  This book is the perfect combination of a light beach read and something with a hint of seriousness. It is a treat! 

MAC B KID SPY: MAC UNDERCOVER” by Mac Barnett – This is one of my favorite series to read with my son.  We were introduced to it when he participated in a virtual children’s book club sponsored by the Joplin Public Library.  One of the talented staff members recorded herself reading the book in four separate segments and then shared the videos with the kids on a weekly basis. We both loved listening to her narrate the clever, humorous book that is set in the late 80s.  Kids learn about Gameboys, the KGB and the Queen of England’s love of corgis. It is a blast from the past with full color illustrations. It is most appropriate for children in grades 2 to 5, but with an adult reading it aloud definitely fun for the whole family. 

A SONG OF FIRE & ICE Series (Books 1 – 5) by George R. R. Martin – I had the pleasure of listening to all five books over the course of 2021 – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm or Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons – and they were all excellent. I LOVED this epic series!  I will not give much detail since the popular Showtime series made them so well known, but will say, this is a series for readers who like a well built new world, knights, castles, bloody battles, plot twists, and dragons.  It is a big investment of time, and your friends will wonder why you are canceling plans to stay home and read; yes, they are that good, but so worth it. I just hope Martin releases the final two books in the series soon so I do not have to read the series all over again to remember what happened. But wait, maybe that would not be so bad, since they are so good.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir –  I wrote a full review for this one in September, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again.  This well-crafted, science fiction that reads like an adventure tale should not be missed.  The book’s main character Ryland Grace is on a mission to save Earth; however, when he wakes up aboard a spacecraft in outer space, he has no idea where he is, much less, why he is there.  He cannot even remember his own name, but as he begins to explore his surroundings, parts of his memory slowly return.  He soon realizes he has been left to deal with a monumental task – figuring out how to save Earth from a parasite species that is killing the sun. Weir creates an engaging and compelling story that spans genres – science fiction, adventure, and mystery fans will all find elements they enjoy.  I highly recommend this one.  

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry – I am always down for a good beach read and this one was right up my alley.  Poppy and Alex have been friends for 12 years.  Seemingly they have little in common; Poppy is always looking for a good time and Alex is more introverted, but over one fateful summer they bonded, became great friends, and have been taking a special summer vacation together ever since.  Except last year, something happened that made things weird, ruined everything, and caused the friends to stop talking.  Poppy is looking for an opportunity to get the pair back together and she soon finds it in the form of Alex’s brother’s wedding in Palms Springs.  I had read Emily Henry’s previous book, BEACH READ, and really liked it, but this one is even better.  The characters are well drawn and the story seems more plausible. This book made me laugh out loud several times. Poppy and Alex both have a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor and the writing of their dialog is so good.

NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles – I missed this one when it first came out several years ago, but I am sure glad I found it this year.   Set in 1870, Captain Kidd has been tasked with returning a ten-year-old rescued captive girl to her relatives in southern Texas. The journey is over 400 miles through wild, dangerous territory and the girl does not remember how to speak English and only wants to escape back to her adopted native family.  To say Captain Kidd has his hands full is an understatement.  Jiles is a masterful storyteller and gets to the heart of the matter with sparse, but powerful narrative. Her character development and description of the land and people make this story shine. Short and compelling; readers will be hard pressed to not finish this Western in a single sitting. 

Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites.  I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!