2o21 Reading Goal: 52 books — Actually Read: 42/52 (final count)
This is my complete list of the books I read in 2021 and the short version of what I thought of them. Books are scored out of 5: 1 — Do Not Recommend; 2 — Can’t Recommend; 3 — Sorta Recommend; 4 — Do Recommend; and 5 — Highly Recommend.
42) Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton — The sequel to Hollow Kingdom, and the further adventures of S.T. the domesticated crow, post-apocalypse. Buxton’s poetic prose and irreverent humor shines, though I will admit I liked the story slightly less (more stressful, ha!). Not for pearl-clutchers or squeamish stomachs. 4/5; Do Recommend.
41) Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton — S.T. is a domesticated crow who finds himself as the last hope of humanity when a zombie-like plague begins to kill off the MoFos (humans), including S.T.’s person, Big Jim. Irreverent, crass, and laugh-out-loud funny, this book has a direct line to my funny bone. If you don’t like big swears or graphic depictions of zombie carnage, this isn’t the book for you, but it’s an all time fav of mine. This was my second read-through. 5/5; Highly Recommend (to the right audience).
40) The Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling — Jack’s favorite stuffed animal — a little pig who has seen him through the hardest parts of childhood — has been lost, and Christmas Eve is his only change to enter the Land of the Lost and save him from the Loser before he’s gone forever. I read this two weeks in a row — once on my own, and once with my kids. Rowling is a good story teller, and this was an engaging read. A little formulaic (child enters magical land, has adventures, and returns home a la The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, or Narnia), but it’s a trope for a reason. 4/5; Do Recommend.
39) Soundtracks by Jon Acuff — I’ve read most of Acuff’s work, and this one may be my favorite. Subtitled “the surprising solution to overthinking,” it’s an encouraging read about the thought habits we indulge in and how to reshape our outlook by reshaping what we dwell on. More than just “think positive,” I found this to be an engaging, humorous, and uplifting read. 4/5; Do Recommend.
38) The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner — Told in two timelines (past and present), this story chronicles the adventures of an aspiring historian in the modern day tracing the movements of a poison-peddling female apothecary from the 1700s. This book got a lot of hype, which I found sorely undeserved. The writing is mediocre, the characters unbelievable, and the plot is half-baked. It’s listed as “magical realism,” but it must be because the reader is required to use magical thinking to suspend disbelief. 2/5; Can’t Recommend.
37) A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers — Hundreds of years ago, the machines left the humans, and the two societies have lived separately ever since. Now, Sibling Dex is having a mid-life crisis. When they leave the city, though, it isn’t clarity that finds them, but a Robot in search of its own answers. This book is one of the gentlest, most hopeful sci-fi stories I’ve read in years. 4/5; Do Recommend
36) The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams — An exuberant love-letter to the English language, this novel tells the intertwining stories of two employees of the same ill-fated dictionary: a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer and the young woman put on his trail a century later. I laughed often and reveled in the prose on every page. 4/5; Do Recommend.
35) The Gift of a Year by Mira Kirshenbaum — Aimed at women who spend most of their lives doing for others and not prioritizing self-care, this guide encourages women to give themselves permission to take themselves off the back-burner for a year and see what happens. This book was a little repetitive, but I liked the concept — in fact, it was one of the building blocks for my 12 Months of Happy project. 3/5; Sorta Recommend.
34) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate — Based on a true story, this children’s novel is written from the POV of its protagonist, Ivan the gorilla. Most of his life, Ivan has been content to be the main attraction at a roadside mall, but when there’s a new addition to the show, Ivan has to grapple with his past and envision a better future for them all. I’ll admit it, I cried. More than once. 4/5; Do Recommend.
33) Billy Summers by Stephen King — A gun-for-hire takes one last job, but there’s more to it than he bargained for. An action-movie in book form; great fun, no horror (but a little gore). 4/5; Do Recommend.
32) The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi — This is definitely targeted at Christian moms of littles, but would be useful to anyone who struggles with the “shoulds” of life. This is a gentle, relatable guide to overcoming the overwhelm and expectations we put on ourselves. Through 13 principles, Adachi wants to equip you to be “a genius about what matters and lazy about what doesn’t.” 4/5; Do Recommend.
31) The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson — The stand-alone sequel to the Truly Devious trilogy. Teen sleuth Stevie Bell is on the case again, this time trying to solve a classic cold case at a sleep-away camp. Fast-paced and fun. 4/5; Do Recommend.
30) Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason — There’s something wrong with Martha — there always has been — but it’s not until her life is falling apart around her that she begins to understand what the real problem is, and what it would mean to change. A devastating, wry look at mental illness and the stories we internalize, this book was emotionally hard to read, but so, so worth it. 5/5; Highly Recommend.
29) Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan — Clay Jannon is out of work when he stumbles upon Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and lands a job as the clerk for the old man with his name above the door. He quickly realizes there’s more to the store than it seems: most of the eccentric clientele don’t buy anything, but rather check out ancient and intriguing tomes, often in the middle of the night. As he tries to sort out what’s going on, Clay is sucked into something far bigger than he planned. Delightful and bookish, this is one of my favorite reads of the year. 5/5; Highly Recommend.
28) The Fireman by Joe Hill — A horrifying new infection that burns its victims alive has consumed life as we know it. Harper and her husband Jakob have made a pact: if one of them gets it, they’ll go out together before the disease can kill them. But newly pregnant Harper has second thoughts when she starts showing symptoms, and she must flee into the night with the help of the mysterious Fireman to find a safe place for her and her unborn child. A couple hundred pages too long, this book was good but a little circuitous. Hill also overused a few storytelling techniques, and the ending left me cold. 3/5; Kinda Recommend.
27) Malorie by Josh Malerman — The sequel to Bird Box. Twelve years after their harrowing journey on the river, Malorie and her kids are once again on the move, this time searching for Malorie’s parents. We learn new things about the creatures and are visited by a villain from the past. 4/5; Do Recommend.
26) If It Bleeds by Stephen King — A collection of long short stories from a master of horror, including a story starring Holly Gibney (from The Outsider and The Bill Hodges trilogy). I loved them all, but especially “Rat.” 4/5; Do Recommend.
25) Bird Box by Josh Malerman — Something is out there, and one glance is enough to drive a person mad. For five years, Malory and her two children have survived on their own, wearing blindfolds any time they venture outside, but there are other people out there, and it’s time to find them. Fabulous speculative fiction. Malerman’s prose is a bit choppy, but it fits the genre and the story. (Side note: the Netflix adaptation with Sandra Bullock is remarkably faithful to the book, and also very good.) 4/5; Do Recommend.
24) Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid — 25-year-old Amira is working as a babysitter to a white family when she’s confronted one night at a grocery story while she’s on the job with one of her young charges. What follows is an exploration of race, privilege, and ambition with compelling characters and engrossing storyline. A very strong debut. 4/5; Do Recommend.
23) Mama Bear Apologetics by Hillary Morgan Ferrer — I read this for my church’s summer book study. The study was great, this book was not. It’s a decent primer on worldview and apologetics, but I found the tone patronizing and lacking in nuance. 2/5; Can’t Recommend.
22) Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo — Alex Stern is an unlikely candidate for entrance into one of Yale’s exclusive secret societies, except for one thing: she can see ghosts. A great example of real-world fantasy with compelling characters and an engrossing plot, this was a refreshingly good book after my experience with Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone books. I’ll be watching for the sequel. 4/5; Do Recommend.
21) On Writing by Stephen King — A masterclass on writing from the master of horror. I loved that the first section of the book was about his early life and entry into the world of writing, and that King’s distinctive voice was all over this book. A solid instruction manual for the new writer (though a little dated as far as the publishing industry goes). 4/5; Do Recommend.
20) Ariadne by Jennifer Saint — A retelling of the classic Greek myth, Ariadne explores the power structures between men and women, and the price women often pay in those relationships. The characters failed to enthrall me, but the prose was lovely. 4/5; Do Recommend.
19) Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell — There’s a serial assaulter on the lose when Saffyre Maddox disappears, and the obvious suspect is awkward and misogynistic Owen Picks. After all, he was the last person who saw her alive. More character-driven than plot-driven, this was a decently twisty thriller with a satisfying ending. 4/5; Do Recommend.
18) One by One by Ruth Ware — Taking cues from Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and “Murder on the Orient Express,” this thriller tells the story of a group trapped in a ski chalet when an avalanche sweeps through the valley. One by one, the characters are killed off, but it’s hard to tell who the killer could be — they all have motives. Not my favorite Ware novel, and the story felt a little stale, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. 3/5; Kinda Recommend.
17) Survive the Night by Riley Sager — In 1991, college sophomore Charlie accepts a ride home from a stranger who might not be who he seems. Reads like a campy thriller, so if you’re ready to suspend disbelief and not respect the protagonist, this is a fun read. 3/5; Kinda Recommend.
16) Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir — A man wakes up on a spaceship with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there, and slowly pieces together that he’s on a last-ditch mission to save humanity. Very fun story. 4/5; Do Recommend.
13-15) Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo — Misfit Alina is whisked away by the mysterious Darkling to be trained as the Sun Summoner — a Grisha with the power to finally end the terror of the Shadow Rift that divides the continent. Wildly popular YA series with a decent Netflix adaptation. Honestly, the world-building doesn’t outweigh the shoddy writing and painful character development for me. Read for the plot, if at all. 2/5; Can’t Recommend.
12) The Martian by Andy Weir — Astronaut Mark Watney gets accidentally marooned on Mars and must survive off his own wits or perish. Lots of science and engineering, but told in an engaging and accessible way. Excellent sci-fi. 5/5; Highly Recommend.
11) Insomnia by Stephen King — Recently widowed Ralph and his friend, Lois, become enmeshed in events of cosmic significance. Too long by about 400 pages, this book was still a pretty good read. I loved the inclusion of elderly protagonists and the mythological elements, but King got lost in his world-building. 3/5; Kinda Recommend.
10) Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng — In the aftermath of their daughter’s death, a Chinese-American family grapples with their own expectations and disfunction. Sensitively written; a moving read from one of my favorite authors. 4/5; Do Recommend.
9) Sweet Little Lies by Cas Frear — A young London policewoman must probe dark secrets buried deep in her own family’s past to solve a murder and a long-ago disappearance. Frear’s debut novel — it was fine, but didn’t wow me. 3/5; Kinda Recommend.
8) Wintering by Catherine May — A memoir and reflection on the fallow seasons in our lives with lessons pulled from literature and the natural world. I deeply connected with the concept of Wintering as May defines it in this book, and I loved some of her examples (there’s a passage on dormice I adored). 4/5; D0 Recommend.
7) Faithful Place by Tana French — #3 in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Detective Frank Mackie escaped from his lower-class life in Dublin’s inner city when he joined the police, but when a body is discovered doors down from his family home, he’s pulled right back in to the disfunction and drama of his childhood. French does a fabulous job of creating relatable characters with realistic motives. This series does feature some overlapping characters, but does not need to be read in order. 4/5; Do Recommend.
6) End of Watch by Stephen King — #3 in the Bill Hodges trilogy. Det. Hodges and co. are once again on the trail of the Mercedes Killer, who manipulates his victims into committing suicide. Unlike previous novels in this series, has an element of the paranormal. 4/5; Do Recommend.
5) Finders Keepers by Stephen King — #2 in the Bill Hodges trilogy. Det. Hodges and his sidekicks must protect a young boy and his family from a deranged man who murdered his favorite writer decades before when the boy finds the killer’s stash of cash and the author’s stolen notebooks. 4/5; Do Recommend.
4) Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King — #1 in the Bill Hodges trilogy. Retired Detective Bill Hodges is on the hunt for The Mercedes Killer, a serial killer and mass murderer with an unusual MO. One of King’s few non-horror story lines, but does have suspense and some gore. Fun binge read. 4/5; Do recommend.
3) The Hike by Drew Magary — Contender for favorite read of the year. Ben goes for a hike that turns south when he witnesses a murder and finds himself plunged into an alternative dimension with no clear way to get back home. Alice Through the Looking Glass meets The Odyssey. A mid-life-crisis bildungsroman for the millennial reader, this book is going on the re-read list. 5/5; Highly Recommend.
2) The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson — An all-time favorite of mine, this was my fourth or fifth reading. A brief story of a marriage on a final journey, poetically told. 5/5; Highly Recommend.
1) The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey — A poignant memoir of sudden illness bringing a life to a stand-still, and the strange company it brought. Beautiful prose, sprinkled with observations of nature. Right up my alley. 5/5; Highly Recommend.