My Favorite Books of 2021

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Like I imagine it was for most people, 2021 was filled with highs and lows. I ended the year grateful yet eager for the fresh start of a new year. There were some months where I read a lot and others where I finished very little or nothing at all. Despite the stops and starts of my reading life, I finished 55 books in 2021. Keep reading to see my favorites!

2021 Releases

Crossroads book cover

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

I don’t rank my favorite books, but Crossroads is easily number one. I love everything about this book, which tells the story of the Hildebrandt family navigating life during the 1970s. We follow Russ, a pastor who feels adrift and out of touch, as he longs for a woman who isn’t his wife, Marion. She feels invisible to Russ and struggles to understand her children. The oldest is Clem, an idealistic college student who’s trying to sort out his feelings about Vietnam. Becky is the only daughter, a popular teen who has her eye on a boy with a girlfriend. The last character we follow is Perry, a young drug dealer who seeks to be reformed and finally do the right thing.

If you like character-driven novels, don’t miss this book. Jonathan Franzen writes characters so well. By the time I finished Crossroads, I felt I knew these people intimately. This title is the first book in a trilogy; I cannot wait to be reunited with the Hildebrandts. 

Beautiful world where are you book cover

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You was one of my most anticipated 2021 titles. I loved Sally Rooney’s previous book, Normal People, so I had high hopes for Beautiful World. Thankfully, I ended up loving this one too.

The book follows four friends: Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon. Alice is a novelist who barely knows Felix yet invites him with her on a work trip to Rome. Eileen and Simon are longtime friends but maybe more. Sections of the novel are epistolary in form thanks to the letters Alice and Eileen exchange about their romances, work, and hopes for the future.

If you’re looking for an exciting plot, you won’t find it here. What you will find is excellent character-driven fiction that’s perfect for people who can see themselves in the wanderers and wonderers of the world.

Hell of a book book cover

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

If this book looks familiar, it’s because it won the 2021 National Book Award for fiction. After I read it, I understood why. This novel is exciting, engaging, and provides excellent commentary on today’s racial and political tensions.

The plot is hard to explain, and I think this book is best read knowing little about it anyway. All you need to know is that the story follows a Black writer who shares his name and book title with Jason Mott. Jason can’t escape the news of the most recent police shooting and keeps encountering a boy who may or may not be real as he tours the US promoting his new book. 

Hell of a Book is just that: an unputdownable, timely novel. 

In book cover

In by Will McPhail

2021 was the year in which I realized I really do like graphic novels. I grabbed In on my library’s new books shelf, knowing nothing about it except that it was pretty. This time, judging by the cover worked out quite well. 

In follows a man named Nick, an adrift illustrator who feels like he’s missing out on something. As Nick interacts with family and begins to fall in love, the real human connections he forms make his world more colorful. This book is a beautiful look at the power of relationships to save and restore us. 

The plot book cover

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

When I think about The Plot, the first word I think of is “fun.” This novel is a book within a book, perfect for suspense and literature lovers. 

The story revolves around Jacob Bonner, a once-popular author who teaches creative writing at a failing college. It’s there where Jacob meets Evan Parker, a student who arrogantly assumes he has the perfect plot to ensure a bestselling book. After hearing it, Jacob agrees. 

Years later, Jacob learns that Evan is dead and had never published his book. What does an author do with a great plot except tell the story? Jacob does, and then things begin to escalate out of his control. 

If you ever find yourself in a reading slump and need a book to get you out of it, choose The Plot

Assembly book cover

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly took me by surprise. I first heard about the book when a Goodreads friend posted his review. He said the book didn’t work for him, but the story sounded interesting, so I grabbed the book from the library, not expecting much. Thankfully, this little book exceeded my expectations. 

Assembly follows an unnamed Black woman living and working in London. The story is nonlinear, which is why I thought I might not like this book, yet it flows beautifully. This book is only 112 pages, yet its explorations of race, womanhood, capitalism, mortality, and belonging have stayed with me since I read it. I plan to revisit this one soon.

Small things like these book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These is another short but powerful book. It takes place in Ireland during the 1980s and follows a man named Bill Furlong. He sells coal and delivers it to a local convent, where he discovers something disturbing around Christmas time. 

This book tells a lovely story about compassion and love, and it does so without being preachy or too sentimental. This little book is a gem.

Quick Thoughts About Backlist Titles I Loved

So you want to talk about race book cover

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This is the best antiracist book I’ve read so far. If you’re passionate about social justice and reading diversely, don’t miss this.

Jesus and John Wayne book cover

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If you were like me and wondered how the evangelical church ended up where it is today, read this book ASAP.

Know my name book cover

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I thought this memoir couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but it did. Though hard to read, Know My Name is an essential, beautiful book.

The Stats

I always track my reading in Book Riot’s customizable reading log. (Click here for the 2022 version.) That makes it easy to see my yearly reading statistics, which delights the nerd in me.

  • Fiction vs. nonfiction: 52% of my reading was fiction; 48% was nonfiction.
  • Book format: 60% print, 30% digital, and 10% audio.
  • Diversity: 32% of the books I read were by a BIPOC author. I’d like to increase that percentage to 50% in 2022.
  • Book source: 55% of the books I read in 2021 came from the library. Support your local libraries, kids!

2022 Reading Goals

  • Read 75 books with 50% of those by a BIPOC author.
  • Slow down with book-buying. Read what I have and rely on the library for new releases.
  • Pick up some of the big books that have intimated me.

This post is always a lot of fun for me to write, so I hope you enjoyed it too. What were the best books you read in 2021? What should I add to my list in 2022?

What I Read and Loved in October 2021

Photo by Karolina Badzmierowska on Unsplash

October flew by this year. It was a busy month professionally and personally, which means that I didn’t finish quite as many books as I usually do. I started a lot, though. I had literary commitment issues this month, so I know November’s wrap-up will be a lot longer since I’m in the middle of several books right now. They’ll get their day in the spotlight soon enough, though. For now, here’s what I finished in October. 

What I Read

I was their American dream book cover

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib
Format: eBook

This graphic memoir is a beautifully told and illustrated story about a girl’s coming of age in America. Born to immigrants who would later divorce, Malaka has to navigate life where her parents have different hopes and expectations. Her Filipino and Egyptian heritage makes her stand out in a predominantly white community, challenging for anyone but especially hard for a teen girl. I’d recommend this book to fans of Good Talk by Mira Jacob or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. 

Minor feelings book cover

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Format: eBook

Minor Feelings is a collection of essays about what it’s like to live in modern America as an Asian woman. Cathy Park Hong explores themes of creativity, friendship, racism, and belonging. Some essays had a primarily academic tone and referenced artists and thinkers I was unfamiliar with, but I still enjoyed this book. The pieces “An Education” and “Portrait of an Artist” are especially engaging. 

Leave the world behind book cover

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Format: Print

White New Yorkers Amanda and Clay book a house in a remote part of Long Island, ready for a family vacation with their two teenaged kids. Soon into their trip comes a knock at the door. It’s the owners of the house, who are Black, saying there’s been a blackout in the city. They didn’t know where else to go, so they came to the vacation house. The cable is out, and there’s no wi-fi, so both parties are unsure what’s happening and if they’re safe. 

Leave the World Behind is relatively short, yet Rumaan Alam takes the time to explore class, race, and connection. The story slowly gets eerier and eerier, which I appreciated. The ending was a letdown, however, and tainted how I feel about the overall book. 

What I Loved

Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, and Matt Lucas on the set of The Great British Baking Show

TELEVISION: The Great British Baking Show

I never expected that watching British people bake in a big white tent would bring me so much joy, but here we are. I started watching this show last year when the world went into lockdown, and it became my “blankie” show–something that provides comfort and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. While the current season won’t end up as a favorite, I’m still thrilled the show is back and I look forward to a new episode each week.

Unhide fuzzy blanket

HOME ITEM: Unhide Blanket

Speaking of “blankies,” this is my favorite one. When autumn arrives, and the temperatures dip, I reach for this, the best, softest, most perfect blanket that has ever existed. I got one in a FabFitFun box a while back and have since bought two others as gifts. This blanket is a perfect weight, and nothing could be cozier.

Soup and bread
Photo by Irina on Unsplash

FOOD: Soup

Yes, soup. I’ve always felt pretty neutral about soup. It’s always been fine, but recently, something changed, and I’ve been craving it. I feel like 85% of my thoughts in October were about soup. I made homemade broccoli cheddar soup, cheesy enchilada soup, chili, and chicken noodle (okay, so Safeway made that last one, but I microwaved it at home). Soup is so good, you all! You should have some today.

What I Wrote


What did you read and enjoy in October?

What I Read and Loved in March 2021

Photo by Dan Farrell on Unsplash

March was a wonderful, hope-filled month for me. I got my first vaccine shot and could finally begin seeing the light at the end of the very long and twisted COVID-19 tunnel. It was also the month where I regained some reading momentum which allowed me to finish eight books. EIGHT! And I enjoyed all of them! Keep reading to see the titles.

What I Read

This close to okay book cover

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
Format: Audiobook

This new release is about a woman who sees a man standing on the ledge of a bridge, about to jump. She pulls over, talks him down, and invites him to get a cup of coffee with her. They end up spending several days together as they explore their secrets and heartbreaks. 

This Close to Okay reignited my love for audiobooks, thanks to the book’s excellent narration by Kamali Minter and Zeno Robinson. Though I didn’t find the ending wholly satisfying, this is a good story about two people who meet at just the right moment in time. 

The midnight library book cover

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Format: Hardcover

The Midnight Library is a bit of a departure for me, but I loved it. It’s a sci-fi tale about a woman named Nora who’s attempted suicide, only to be stuck in a unique library in which she can live different versions of her life depending on which book she pulls from the shelves.

Matt Haig’s story is deeply engaging and moving, the perfect blend of realism and magic. This novel will be especially delightful to book lovers who have a particular love of libraries and librarians.

Good apple book cover

Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York
by Elizabeth Passarella
Format: eBook

Good Apple is the true story of a conservative Southern belle who moves to New York, marries a Jewish husband, and deals with her evolving beliefs. This book is a quick, easy, and funny read, but it could have benefited from being more cohesive. Despite my issues with it, I still enjoyed this book, partly because I’m a sucker for almost anything set in NYC. 

Little threats book cover

Little Threats by Emily Schultz
Format: eBook

Little Threats is a slow burn of a suspense story about the 1993 murder of a teen girl. When the book begins, Kennedy has just been released from her 15-year prison sentence for killing her best friend, Haley. Kennedy has claimed innocence the entire time, but even her twin sister Carter is suspicious. Kennedy returns to her father’s house and her teen bedroom and faces the town’s anger and questions that are revived when a true-crime show comes into town to film an episode about Haley’s murder. 

I enjoyed this story and welcomed the slower pacing. The conclusion wrapped things up nicely, making the reading journey very much worth it for me. 

Who is Maud Dixon book cover

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
Format: Audiobook

Helen is a writer who’s had smashing success with her first novel, Mississippi Foxtrot. She goes by the pen name Maud Dixon and wants to keep her success under wraps. A wannabe writer named Florence becomes her assistant, promising to keep her real identity a secret. When the two take a research trip to Morocco, a car accident claims a life and opens up opportunities and adventures for the survivor. Though it started a bit slowly, the fast-paced ending more than made up for it. 

This thriller was another excellent audiobook, read by Thérèse Plummer.

The New York Times no-recipe recipes book cover

The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton
Format: eBook

This no-recipe cookbook is the perfect cookbook for me. When I’m in the kitchen, I like to be creative and make recipes my own. Sam Sifton gives cooks that option by presenting “recipes” that are more suggestive than essential. I enjoyed this book a lot because it reminded me why I like cooking so much.

The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper
Format: eBook

This compulsively readable thriller is about the lives of three different families living in one London apartment building. There’s Steph, Paul, and their teenage daughter Freya. Emma, a former shop-owner who feels entirely unmoored, lives below them. Then there’s Chris and his wife. Chris is a driving instructor who was teaching Freya how to drive. He becomes a person of interest when she disappears, and he was the last person to see her alive. 

The Downstairs Neighbor had me glued to my Kindle. The twists kept coming and coming, and the way all the characters tied together was satisfying. This book was just such fun

Know my name book cover

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Format: Audiobook

I’d only heard praise about Know My Name, the memoir of the woman formerly known as Emily Doe, who Brock Turner assaulted. With this book, the world meets Chanel Miller as she describes how the assault affected her, what the court case was like, and how being a victim and survivor has ultimately changed her life. Miller is a gifted writer; her prose is beautiful and places readers right in the courtroom alongside her. Her story was hard to read at times, but I was surprised by how hopeful parts of the book ended up being, too. Know My Name is an unforgettable memoir that deserves all of the positive attention it’s received so far.

What I Loved

The OverDrive logo showing a cartoon woman reading a book

TECH: OverDrive/Libby

Thanks to my local public library, I’ve been an OverDrive user for years. I fell in love with the app all over again in March, though. I had the opportunity to introduce some students and staff members to it, and that reminded me how great it is that so many library cardholders have access. Books you can get with the click of a button and take anywhere you go? Isn’t that fantastic?!

COVID Vaccine sign

HEALTH: The COVID-19 Vaccine

I can’t even begin to express my gratitude to the scientists and doctors who are responsible for this vaccine. It’s given me hope that felt so distant, even just a couple of months ago. Sorry for all the mean stuff I said about you in high school and college, science!

cw: abuse

DOCUMENTARY: Athlete A via Netflix

The abuse that occurred in U.S. gymnastics is horrific. Athlete A does a wonderful job explaining what happened and who failed to protect the young girls whose lives were forever changed by an evil doctor. Though definitely hard to watch at times, the courage of the survivors is incredible and deserves our attention. Watching them read their statements in court brought me to tears. If you’re a documentary fan, don’t skip this one.

That’s it for me! What did you read and love in March?

What I Read and Loved in February 2021

Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

I think I say this every month, but February flew by. I can’t say I minded, though, considering how stressful things still are thanks to the pandemic. Students at my high schools came back to in-person learning on March 1, so February was full of meetings and emails about what that was going to look like.

I only read three books last month, two of which are quite short. Since I had so much information coming at me from work, my brain needed a bit of a break. Keep on reading to see what those books were and to know what else I enjoyed. Thanks for coming by my little space on the internet!

What I Read

The truths we hold book cover

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
FORMAT: Audiobook

I’m always wary of reading political memoirs from people currently in office. I assume their books are going to be more policy-driven than story-driven. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of policy talk in The Truths We Hold, but Harris does a lovely job telling her story. My favorite parts of the book include stories of her mother and sister and what their lives were like as Harris grew up. Seeing how her mother shaped her was touching. Harris reads the audiobook, which is a major plus for me. 

How to make a slave and other essays book cover

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker
FORMAT: Print

I love a good essay collection, and this book is exactly that. Jerald Walker talks about his life as a Black man in America with wisdom, humor, and a keen eye for a good story. I’m drawn to books set in academia, so my favorite essays in this collection are the ones that discuss Walker’s life as a student and professor. The essay in which he discusses his writing mentor James Alan McPherson is especially fantastic.

I am the rage book cover

I Am the Rage by Dr. Martina McGowan
FORMAT: Print

Whenever I do a pick-up order at Target, I browse the app to see what new books they have on their shelves. That was how I discovered this poetry collection. (Isn’t it great that a big-box store like Target sells poetry?!) This book was the perfect reading choice for Black History Month since McGowan’s poems have racial justice as their core. The poems in this book were written in the last year, so there are mentions of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Those modern connections made this slim volume a powerful read.

What I Loved

ONLINE SHOP: The Bluest Willow

As I’ve mentioned before in this section, I’m a big fan of the Popcast with Knox and Jamie. I discovered the Bluest Willow because the shop’s owner is Knox’s wife, Ashley McCoy. This shop has the cutest clothing, accessories, and home decor items. I’ve done several orders already and absolutely love all the pieces I’ve received. Ashley has curated such a lovely collection of unique yet everyday goods. I love this little shop so much.

RECIPE: One Skillet Saucy Chicken Tortilla Enchilada Rice Bake
from Half Baked Harvest

Look at this picture of gooey cheese and sauce and tortilla chips and flavorful goodness. LOOK AT IT. This recipe is as delicious as it appears, and also pretty simple. I made my own enchilada sauce, but this would be even easier if you used pre-made sauce. I’ve loved many Half Baked Harvest recipes, but this one might be my new favorite.


What did you read and love in February?

What I Read and Loved in January 2021

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I know nothing miraculous happens when the calendar changes from one year to another, but going from 2020 to 2021 felt especially exciting and vital. Of course, the hard stuff is still hard, and the good stuff is still good, but any forward motion right now fills me with optimism.

Despite being in a weird headspace (who isn’t right now?), I surprised myself by reading five books. I enjoyed all of them, too! Keep reading to learn why.

What I Read

Luster book cover

Luster by Raven Leilani

This book got a lot of buzz in 2020, and after reading it, I can see why. The prose is gorgeous and effectively puts readers in the head of the book’s protagonist, a 23-year-old Black woman living in New York City. She’s a struggling artist whose work life and dating life are both disappointing. When Eric, an older man in an open marriage, comes along, she begins an affair with him. What was once secretive and alluring becomes something else altogether when Eric’s wife and daughter become tangled in the affair.

I appreciate a lot about this book, but there’s a major plot point that didn’t make sense to me. Still, Luster is worth reading. If nothing else, it made me thankful my 20s are behind me.

The look of the book book cover

The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth

If you’re like me and you judge books by their covers, this book will be a dream come true. Full of gorgeous images, Mendelsund and Alworth take you behind the scenes of publishing, graphic design, and how the two merge. I read this on my iPad, but would love to purchase a copy so I can flip through it when I’m craving some eye candy. The Look of the Book is a must-read for the nerdiest of book nerds.

Chefs fridges book cover

Chefs’ Fridges: More Than 35 World-Renowned Cooks Reveal What They Eat at Home by Carrie Solomon

One of my life mottos is to mind my own business. I’m not going to ask to see inside your refrigerator, but I’ll happily take a look if you want me to. The chefs in this book wanted me to, and I was thrilled to oblige.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a passion for food and cooking, and passion is on every page of Chefs’ Fridges. This book is full of incredible chefs and great, bright photos. Do I have the palate of an 8-year-old child? Yes, I do. But while I might not want to eat it, I can appreciate a well-told story about frozen rabbit and why someone believes it’s delicious.

The survivors book cover

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper is one of my must-read authors. I’ve enjoyed each of her books, and The Survivors is no exception. The story is once again set in Australia and follows a man named Kiernan when he ventures back to his hometown with his family. Soon into his arrival, someone is found dead on the beach, and the death raises questions and forces Kiernan to face his role in terrible accident years earlier.

While I didn’t like The Survivors as much as Harper’s other novels, I still enjoyed the story a lot, though the beginning was a bit slow. Nevertheless, fans of Harper’s mysteries will be more than satisfied with this gripping story about a man forced to face his past.

The residence book cover

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
by Kate Andersen Brower

You might have noticed that the US got a new president on January 20th. Because I love presidential history, I told someone that Inauguration Day is my Super Bowl, and I meant it. Since I had politics on my mind, I decided to read one of the books I got for Christmas, The Residence. In its pages are stories from White House staff who work behind the scenes. Readers hear from butlers, maids, chefs, florists, and many others. The pride they take in their jobs is inspiring, and the devotion to the families they serve is admirable. If you too are into history and want a quick, fun read, make sure to pick up The Residence.

What I Loved

POEM: “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

I can’t imagine anyone witnessing Gorman’s reading and not being moved by it. Her words and performance were powerful reminders that art matters.

INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT: Sharon Says So

Sometimes I feel as if I’m wasting my time when I scroll through Instagram. Other times I’m learning about the Constitution and impeachment trials. That’s all thanks to my favorite new Instagram follow, Sharon Says So a.k.a. Sharon McMahon. She’s a former government teacher who’s bringing her wisdom to the masses. One of the features I love most on her account is when she asks for opinions on hot topics. She gives people on the right, left, and middle a chance to speak their minds on controversial issues and shares some of their answers. It’s helpful to see how other people think and why they believe what they do. And in a world full of people screaming at each other about politics, it’s incredibly refreshing to witness civil and helpful discourse.


What did you read and love in January? Leave a comment and let me know!