My 2021 book list – one book for every week, plus a few bonus picks in case you need spares to read. Something for everyone!
My 2021 Book List: One Book a Week, and a Few Extra
I work part time, have four children, and like to sew. So how do I read so many books? I listen to a ton of them on Audible, while sewing or folding laundry or cleaning the house. I read on my kindle for 15-20 minutes most evenings while my kids are easing into slumber; they like me nearby, and this way I’m patient about it. I always have a book in my bag, and I find that reading for even 5 minutes a day adds up quickly (that’s how I read most of the serious books). I always seem to have at least one book per week by the end of the year.
If you want to read more, try picking up a book instead of scrolling on your phone. I do scroll my phone sometimes, but books are so much more satisfying, most of the time.
As always, I’ve sorted this year’s books by genre. This year is a little heavy on the chick lit genre; it was my way of coping with uncertainty, I guess. Read the entire list, or skip to the types you are most interested in. I read a wide variety!
The Genome Odyssey is all about the use of genetics to solve medical mysteries. Dr. Euan Ashley writes about patients with warmth and empathy. Technical details are interspersed with human interest stories about individual patient but also the doctors and researchers involved in this important work.
Abigail Tucker’s Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct is interesting but also gets pretty technical. The sections on animal tests run in scientific labs often left me feeling sick.
Mary Pipher may be writing to a young colleague in Letters to a Young Therapist, but her advice holds true for any human. I appreciated her groundedness in her own humanity, and her willingness to admit to some of the mistakes she made as a therapist herself across the years.
Cassandra Speaks by Elizabeth Lesser was a lighter read than I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. I liked her insights on women and leadership, as well as the ways in which the stories we tell impact the ways we see both men and women.
I started reading Sapiens way back in 2019, but got hung up on Harari’s idea that hunter gatherer life was relaxing. Can you imagine being a pregnant hunter gatherer? How about a brand new mother? Or anyone with health problems? I finally finished it this past February, and I did like the second half of the book better than the first. It still has plenty of controversial ideas, but in the second half I think the author realizes they are controversial. And that makes a difference!
I spent months and months working my way through David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage. This is an intense book, and I suspect some people love it, some hate it, and most people find themselves challenged by it. I got enough out of it that I will read more of Schnarch’s writing, but probably also very slowly.
Self Help Non-Fiction
I haven’t put Matthew Pollard’s advice in The Introvert’s Edge to Networking to use yet, but I do think it should work. And a lot of the book is solid advice for non networking relationships, too!
Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play has some ideas for dividing up home labor, but I didn’t feel like it scaled very well to a family of four, or even to a family with a stay at home parent and no house cleaning services. There was only one card for cleaning the entire house! The book gave me food for thought, but I think it would work better for newlyweds or a couple just starting to have children.
Bruce Feiler offers straightforward advice on building more functional families (and marriages) in The Secrets of Happy Families. This is a pretty quick read, and I found some great tips in its pages.
Kate Fitzpatrick-Harnish’s Urban Music Education was the perfect book to read before heading back into the middle school music classroom. It’s perfect for its target audience, but I won’t be handing it out to the general public any time soon.
Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is my must-read book pick for 2021. Everyone needs to read this book. The movie based off of the book is also good.
I didn’t know much about Dolly Parton before reading Songteller, which is a collaborative book between Dolly Parton and Robert K Oermann. She is a fascinating human. I recommend listening to this book on audible; it feels more like an interview than a biography, and on audible you get to hear recordings of many of her songs as she speaks about them.
Kim and Penn Holderness mix laughter with serious conversation around making a long term marriage work in Everybody Fights.
Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg bring the musical Carter Family to life in the book Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?. The book also includes anecdotes about a range of musicians who worked with the family, including Johnny Cash (who married June Carter).
Middle Grade Fiction Picks
I knew my kids LOVED Gordon Korman’s The Unteachables, and after reading it out loud to them it’s easy to see why. A cast of interesting characters who beat the odds to accomplish something pretty amazing. I don’t want to say more without ruining the plot, but it’s well worth a read.
I read Enid Blyton’s entire Adventure series out loud to my twelve-year-old daughter as a bedtime stories. Four children get into some truly incredibly adventures. My daughter loved them, especially the character of the parrot named Kiki.
Stuart Gibbs writes high intensity drama in Spy School, which I read when one of my children asked for a copy. I didn’t love it, but I do see the appeal for middle grade children.
Young Adult Fiction
I read Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before YA novel and liked it well enough to also read the sequels, P.S. I Still Love You, and Always and Forever, Lara Jean. This author does a wonderful job of capturing teenage romance, with all of its joys, trials, and dilemmas. As a parent, I especially appreciate that Lara Jean stands her ground and doesn’t let others pressure her into behaving in a particular way.
Melanie Jacobson highlights the difficulty of fitting in as a high schooler when your family is definitely different in The Big Easy. This is relatively serious young adult fiction that teens through adults will enjoy.
Book Club Fiction
I almost skipped my book club’s pick of Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist due to some of the very difficult subjects it deals with. But I was glad I read it. The writing is skillful, and it’s a worthwhile story full of rich and complex characters. I listened to the audible version of the book, and enjoyed Sneha Mathan’s narration.
I liked The Henna Artist well enough to listen to its sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. Another pretty intense book that I definitely consider a grown up read. The book is one that I liked enough that I’ll probably also read author Alka Joshi’s third book that comes out in 2023.
I found Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot a highly engaging read, although I have mixed emotions about how the plot played out. I love the idea of getting in touch with the pre-kids version of yourself.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett was a book club read. Well written, but not a story I particularly enjoyed. I found the characters difficult to relate to. Tom Hanks narrates the audible version nicely.
Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days both Dashti and Saren find their personal worth by working through a series of trials. I recommend this book for high school and higher due to the darkness of it at time and also the subtlety of character development. I listened to it on Audible, but given the journal type format it might read better in paper or ebook format. The audio version does work, though, and it has a range of narrators to bring it to life.
A friend recommended Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project about a very socially awkward professor finding love. I liked it all right; my husband loved it. This one works well as an audiobook.
The Keeper of Happy Endings weaves magic through joy and sorrow, creating memorable characters that pull the reader’s heartstrings.
Elin Hilderbrand is a talented author, but I didn’t love The Identicals. Aspects of it were good, but there were some really messy plot details. Some left me queasy, and another simply felt like it didn’t fit into the rest of the storytelling at all. I also didn’t love the characters of The Blue Bistro by the same author. They felt self absorbed.
The Water Dancer felt different from a lot of the work by Ta-Nehisi Coates that I have read. It takes slavery and the underground railroad and adds in a mystical element. This gives the book a unique feel, as it blends fantasy with historical fiction.
Noelle Salazar’s The Flight Girls details the lives of America’s female pilots during World War II through a fictional lens.
I knew that Olympian runner Eric Liddell died died in the Weixian Internment Camp during World War II, but that was all I knew about World War II ear Japan run internment camps in China before reading Hazel Gaynor’s When We Were Young & Brave. This book follows a boarding school that was interned in the camp, alternating viewpoints between a female teacher and a female student. Liddell does show up as a character in the book, which doesn’t hide the brutality of the experience but is also full of warmth.
Pam Jenoff’s The Woman with the Blue Star tells of Jews hiding the Warsaw sewers during World War II. Although many of elements of the story felt incredibly unlikely, the Warsaw sewers were used during the war, both as a sheltering place for Jews and strategically by resistance workers. Learn more about this piece of World War II history here. Learn about Jews hiding elsewhere in Ukrainian sewers by reading Robert Marshall’s In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust.
Suspense and Mystery Fiction
Catherine Bybee’s A Thin Disguise also made for great long drive listening material. Some fluff, some suspense, and a hint of mystery. It is one I would listen to with headphones if kids are around.
Sarah M. Eden’s The Gentleman and the Thief was entertaining but not fantastic. It was engaging enough for a road trip listen, and child listening appropriate, but not something I would go out of my way to recommend. It didn’t feel particularly authentic as a historical novel, but fun entertainment.
Alexander McCall Smith’s The Man with the Silver Saab was light and entertaining.
Lily Chu’s The Stand-In charmed me from the beginning. This is chick lit at its best, with underlying themes of exploring identity, the downside of fame, and prioritizing what matters most.
Farah Heron’s rom com Muslim arrange marriage story, Accidentally Engaged, was light, sweet and fun with a couple of PG-13 scenes thrown in.
Whitney D. Grandison’s A Love Hate Thing is chick lit at its best. Lots of fun, but some really serious plot pieces that make you think and grow as a person. I listened to it on audible, and recommend headphones if you are around children.
Becky Monson offered up a sweet, funny, and also heartfelt chick lit read in The Accidental Text. Mourning her mother, Maggie sends texts to her mom’s phone number. But someone new has that number.
Whitney Dineen’s The Event was much lighter chick lit, but still a fun read that also contained some good messages.
Whitney Dineen and Melanie Summers’ The Text God was pretty wacky. I read it after Text Me On Tuesday from the same series (and by the same two authors), which is a little more of a standard chick lit read. Text Wars by the same two authors made for charming and fun light summer reading. I do enjoy collaborations between authors like this, where one author writes ones voice and the other author writes the other.
Melanie Jacobson’s Just One Word was a fun, light chick lit read that bookworms will especially enjoy.
I discovered and enjoyed reading Sonali Dev’s Recipe for Persuasion and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors in 2020, so I new I wanted to read Incense and Sensibility when it was released in 2021. It lagged briefly in the final quarter, but overall I really enjoyed it. The characters are fun, plot twists are not always predictable, and it takes place in the same part of the world where I live.
Phaedra Patrick’s The Secrets of Love Story Bridge was a charming read. It also features a male protagonist – unusual for a chick lit type story.
Carolyn Brown’s The Empty Nesters made for a fun although not very realistic comfort read.
I downloaded Melissa Ferguson’s The Cul-de-Sac War to listen to on a long drive, and it was perfect for that. Pretty fluffy and the characters feel immature, but there are plenty of immature adults wandering around in real life…
Second Chance Fiction
Annie Lyons offers thoughts on life, personal responsibility, our responsibilities to others (and lack or responsibility to others), and death in The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett. It’s an unusual story that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People was a bit slow at the beginning, but I loved the ending and I think it is worth working through the somewhat tedious start. I adore the complicated characters this author consistently creates.
I only read The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Jane Riley because a friend from high school is a mortician, and so is this book’s protagonist. It’s an unusual topic for a book and definitely quirky. I do recommend it!
I really enjoyed Lia Louis’ Dear Emmie Blue. It was another long drive listen but one I would enjoy at home too, I think. Nothing scandalous happens, but there’s enough language that I would still recommend headphones.
I normally love Catherine Ryan Hyde’s books, but I didn’t love My Name Is Anton. Maybe there was just too much going on? Too close to real life and not simplified for the sake of storytelling, maybe. I don’t un-recommend it, because there is some interesting stuff in there; I just liked it less than many of her other books.
Seven Perfect Things is another Catherine Ryan Hyde book that I read. I enjoyed this one more, although it still doesn’t make it to the top of my favorites by this author.
Kristin Rockaway’s Life, Unscheduled is all about living for life and not work, and figuring out how to make that switch if you are a workaholic.
What books did you read in 2021? Do you have any I should be sure to read in 2022?
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