This year, I clocked in at 81 books read! It was an awesome reading year; heavy on contemporary and historical fiction which was a switch from the copious number of biographies I read in 2020.
I am happy to share my Top 10 Reads of 2021, along with the complete lists of books (broken down by genre) and thoughts on the books I read in the back half of the year. If you’re into reading my thoughts on the books I read in the first half of the year, head to the Part One Blog Post.
As always, I look forward to hearing what you read and loved in 2021!
Top 10 of 2021:
The Full List
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Northanger Abbey has quickly become one of my favourite Austens, along with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Deeply relatable and funny, and not too long!
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Sparks like Stars by Nadia Hashimi
The Huntress by Kate Quinn
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
New York by Edward Rutherfurd
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler
Outlawed by Anna North
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
China Dolls by Lisa See
Five Wives by Joan Thomas
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
Sparks Like Stars was a moving read with a powerful protagonist. Hashimi is an amazing writer, able to capture and convey the inner life of the main character, Sitara, in a way where the reader feels like they are inhabiting her themselves.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee was an NYU book club pick that I skipped back in the spring. I am so glad I did eventually pick it up, because it was SO good! This story of four generations of a Korean family living in Japan from the early 1900s to the 1970s is beautifully written, bringing the reader along for a sweeping and heartbreaking tale. Not much is written for Western audiences about the brutal annexation of Korea by Japan and the horrific treatment of Korean people by the Japanese state (including children born in Japan with Korean heritage), even to this day.
I loved all three Kate Quinn books I read this year. Quinn has a distinct voice and structure to her work that I find compelling. At least one character in each book is based on a woman that really lived and has a little known story. The Alice Network is about two women who lived through two wars and are joined for better or for worse by a Nazi collaborator, René Borderlon. The Rose Code is about a trio of women working as codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. Dark, moving, and ultimately hopeful, this is historical fiction at its best.
At 894 pages, New York by Edward Rutherfurd was an epic novel covering the history of New York City from 1664 to 2009 through the eyes of fictional characters experiencing real life events. It took me a chapter or two to really buy in and then I was hooked! It’s an especially good read if you know NYC well and can see the places referenced in your mind’s eye.
Outlawed by Anna North was the first Reese’s Book Club pick that I didn’t vibe with. Parts of it were okay and I really liked the main character, but I needed some more context of the Hole in the Wall Gang to really understand the gender-bending twist that North put on that real historical gang.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Lucky by Marissa Stapley
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir appeared on everyone’s Best of 2021 lists (including Barack Obama’s) and for good reason. I feel fancy when I learn that I enjoy many of the same books as President Obama. Just like Weir’s first book, The Martian, Project Hail Mary lives up to all the hype.
Inspired by Laura Tremaine’s love of Stephen King, I read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption in one sitting. I have seen the movie The Shawshank Redemption, but did not know it was based on a book, let alone one by THE Stephen King. Laura is right, King really is a master storyteller.
The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman. What a fantastic book. Equally compelling as it is creepy. It helps if you were/are an actor and familiar with pilot season and/or the transition between being a theatre actor to a film actor.
I read People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry in one go after work one evening. 10/10 summer read. The perfect romance. Reading it felt like feeding my brain its favourite snack food and was unexpectedly moved by the last couple of chapters.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman was my top book of 2021. I laughed, I cried, I am now a lifelong fan of Backman. I am going to work my way through his catalog in 2022.
Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker
The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi
Try Softer by Aundi Kolber
Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First by Laura Tremaine
The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk
Women Food and God by Geneen Roth
Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker was a great read that pushed the boundaries of the narratives I have become comfortable with surrounding alcohol consumption. It made me feel better about my preference to not have a drink at all most days and only enjoy certain beverages when I feel like it.
I read Try Softer by Aundi Kolber with my book cub (hi, Internet Stranger Friends!) and it is one that has had a tangible impact on my life. I have found myself remembering and putting into practice many of the theories and exercises outlined by Kolber.
The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi was wonderful. I listen to Kendra’s Lazy Genius podcast every week, follow her on Instagram, and make her Change Your Life Chicken recipe at least once per month during the fall and winter but hadn’t actually read her book until late this year. I love her straightforward, practical, and compassionate principles for being “a genius about what matters and lazy about what doesn’t.”
Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore
The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales by Peter Rollins
In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World by Pádraig Ó Tuama
Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell
A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal edited by Sarah Bessey
The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr
Everything is Spiritual was one of my top books of the year! Written as a long-form letter or poem, this is a memoir of sorts as well as an exploration of how literally EVERY thing is spiritual. I listen to every single episode of the RobCast and have followed Rob Bell’s work for years. This is only the second or third of his books I have read but I am inspired to go back through his catalog and read more.
In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World by Pádraig Ó Tuama was another book club read. I am so glad I bought a copy so I can go through and read it over and over again. Ó Tuama combines poetry, memoir, theology, and philosophy to explore big life questions and themes. If you can get an updated copy of the book with his postscript written in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, I would recommend it. He spends a number of pages reflecting on the book in light of the world-shattering events we all experienced (and continue to experience).
History & Biography
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
The Season by Kristen Richardson
You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty by Susan Page
Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power by Susan Page
I learned about Page and her work via an interview she did on Pantsuit Politics. I loved her insights and observations from her time in journalism. Both The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty and Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power were wonderful.
I knew little to nothing of Barbara Pierce Bush and came out of The Matriarch impressed, inspired, and intimidated. I think Page presented a fair and compassionate view of a complex woman and family that history will look back on with mixed opinions.
Madam Speaker was great background on Nancy D’Alessandro Pelosi. I respect Speaker Pelosi even higher now that I know her background and the history of her legislating record. I love her unapologetically female approach to her work. I did feel like this book was a bit rushed in order to come out while she was still Speaker; I would like to read a follow up on her retired years once she leaves Congress.
Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
Eat a Peach by David Chang
Good Apple by Elizabeth Passarella
Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey
My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper
Eat a Peach by David Chang was a fantastic memoir with even better ghost writing. His voice was so strong it was almost like listening to an audiobook. I am familiar with Chang’s restaurants, having eaten at Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan and in Toronto - both excellent dining experiences. I was not familiar with his story other than reading this book and listening to his episode of Armchair Expert last year, but it is nothing less than fascinating. I especially appreciated his candor about his mental health and his refusal to sugar coat any of his experiences or add to the mythology of famous chefs that runs amok amongst foodies.
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
Strange Bedfellows by Ina Park
The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang
Loved Cultish by Amanda Montell. I was worried it might be a bit too technical, but thankfully it wasn’t at all. It was conversational and engaging and a beautifully nuanced exploration of language and how it works in the context of cults, from Jonestown to Soul Cycle.
The Best of Me by David Sedaris
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver