For my books of 2021, I have a few planned but often just pick up a book to read as the mood suits me. Certain moods require certain types of books (if you know, you know).
Anyways… I track all of my books so it seems obvious to share what I’m currently reading, what I’d recommend and thoughts on what books you should add to your “to read” list.
I used to read in the car often while waiting on Greyson at swim team but, as he has gotten older, we have started to drop him off and not wait as long in the car. It’s interesting to find different rhythms for this hobby (which reading for me definitely is).
If you are struggling to find reading time but want to, my advice is to find a ten minute pocket of time that works for you daily and just start reading. From there, as you get more into books and reading in general, you can make the choice whether to pick up your phone (let’s be honest, this is a common way that we all waste time) or pick up your book.
For me, personally, I read in the mornings. I’m an early riser so I tend to get about thirty minutes of reading in each morning first thing as I’m drinking coffee. From there, I might read for 15 min or so during the day (lunch hour or while I’m getting a cup of tea). It’s 50/50 on whether I take a book with me now and read while I’m doing the whole carpool waiting game. Sometimes, I just listen to a podcast and other times, I read. Then, most nights, I’ll read again for fifteen minutes or so.
I don’t sit for hours and hours, except for occasionally on a weekend when I’m wrapped up in a book. But, I’m able to finish books because I reach for them daily.
Anyways, hope that helps! I often hear from people that they just don’t know where I find the time so I thought it’d be helpful to share.
Books of 2021
What I read in August
Two of the books that I read this month were on the longer side (A Promised Land and For Which We Stand) and were great, but took longer to digest. I say that to say that I didn’t get to read a ton of fiction this month, but I’m looking forward to more next month. =)
- A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal by Sarah Bessey (5 Stars): I wanted to slowly go through each prayer but found myself not wanting to put the book down. I loved this so much. It’s definitely a book to buy. Get out your highlighters and write on the margins.
- The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar (3.5 Stars): It’s a quick read about a woman who loves her library, her husband and her friends and wants to save them during WWII.
- A Promised Land by Barack Obama (4 Stars): Every American should read this. It doesn’t matter if you agreed with his politics or not, you’ll come away with a human understanding of what it takes to be President. I’m more appreciative of President Obama now after reading this and know you’ll be as well.
- For Which We Stand: How Our Government Works and Why It Matters by Jeff Foster (4 Stars): Read this with my 11-year-old but I’d recommend this to all adults as well. We BOTH learned so much! Would recommend for sure.
- Maroo of the Winter Caves by Ann Turnbull (3 Stars): I read this with my 11-year-old as part of a homeschool curriculum to help teach about ancient civilizations. For that, it was helpful. As a stand-alone book, to read on your own, there was a lot of context missing and the plot could have been better.
What I read in July
I finished a few audiobooks that I had started (some with Greyson) over our trips to Utah and Alabama. I also wrapped up a few other books that I had been slowly making progress on; so this month was filled to the brim with reading (mostly nonfiction).
- Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts (4 Stars): I would have loved to hear more personal stories about the author’s travels. That being said, I enjoyed the book as-is, too.
- The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan (5 stars): The first 75 pages were a bit slow because I was trying to keep track of who all the people were. Honestly, there’s a lot of characters to keep track of, which was a tad annoying, but it did feel like you needed all of them to tell the story. The story is told over dual timelines and follows one family’s life in Lebanon, Syria and the U.S. From choices that were made as children to choices as grandparents, I was drawn in over and over again.
- The Omniovore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollen (2 Stars): I wanted to love this book but it was a struggle for me to get through it. Parts of it were utterly fascinating. Understanding more about corn and how we (America) puts corn products in just about everything was eye opening. Pastoral farming was a new-to-me term, so I enjoyed hearing about that as well. Overall though, I just couldn’t get into this book. The concept was good, but the voice of the author just wasn’t for me. I will say that I’m in the minority for my rating on this one. Most people LOVE this book.
- The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (3 Stars): I thought I’d love this but, honestly, the book was so short. It felt like a simplified version of the movie. I never love a movie more than the book but, in this case, I did.
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (4 Stars): I knew nothing about North Korea before reading this. It’s honestly horrific what North Korean’s have lived through. This book followed the story of a few individuals and what their lives were like as they lived in North Korea. All of them were able to cross the border into China and then make it to South Korea. Based off the numbers in the book though, they were the lucky ones.
- Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell (3 Stars): Listened to this as an audiobook with Greyson and it gave us lots to chat about. I’ve been behind the idea that love is the universal thread that Jesus wanted us to take from him for quite some time. So, that part of the book, wasn’t surprising for me. Parts of Bell’s interpretation of religions around the world and how people can be reached for Christ without knowing the western version of Christianity was really interesting. I would have loved to hear him talk more in-depth on that for sure.
- A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (3 Stars): Greyson and I listened to this on a road trip. I loved the first half of the book. I didn’t know anything about the Appalachian Trail before reading this, so definitely enjoyed the insights into the trail itself. Anyways, the stories that happened on the trail during the first half of the book were funny and engaging. The second half, the author seemed to struggle with wanting to continue on the trail and that’s about the same way I felt about continuing the book. Overall, I’m glad I finished it but it could have been better.
- Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel (3 Stars): Thought I’d love this since I LOVE her podcast: Where Should We Begin. Ultimately, I wanted the same format as her podcast. This was a weird mix of therapy clients and self-help monologues and I just thought it was lacking.
- Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (3 Stars): I read this as a read-aloud to my 11 year old. We enjoyed learning more about history (and the WASP program) but found this story to be pretty slow. By the end, we wanted to know the ending, for sure, but we didn’t love it.
- The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett (4 Stars): I read this with my 11 year old. He literally laughed out loud in a few parts and was eager to read the rest of the series. As an adult, I could have passed on this book. It’s definitely geared towards kids and their humor. Giving it four stars though because the intended audience liked it.
What I read in June
- Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (4 Stars): I kinda hate to rate this as high as a four because it was so incredibly dark and creepy. I really want to say that I didn’t like it but I couldn’t put it down. If you love disturbing, psychological thrillers then this might be a hit for you.
- A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (4 Stars): This book brought up so many emotions and thoughts. It left me curious to know more about Palestinian-American women. Not knowing much about their culture and religion, I still felt the characters were believable. The threads of immigration, family, oppression and hope that there is something better out there; all definitely struck a chord with me.
- Mercy (Buchanan-Renard #2) by Julie Garwood (1 Star): I thought this was too predictable. I’ve read a few of her other books that are connected to this series and enjoyed them. This one, unfortunately, just didn’t engage me.
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (3 Stars): I really like the idea of this book but, ultimately, found this one repetitive and boring. The idea that each of our choices create different paths that our lives could go on is still intriguing to me. However, I think that if the main character lived in more of those lives (like she did at the end with Ash and her daughter), it would have connected more with me.
- Born of Night (The League: Nemesis Rising #1) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (4 Stars): I’m not sure I’ve read any futuristic, paranormal, romance books before. My rating may have to do more with that than how good the book actually was. Either way, it was definitely a guilty-pleasure, steamy romance. I’m occasionally down for one of those and this fit the bill.
What I read in May
- Made for Living: Eclectic Interiors for All Sorts of Styles by Amber Lewis (3 Stars): I thought I genuinely loved Amber’s style, but after reading through her book, I’m not so sure. All the spaces in this book are absolutely beautiful yet they all seem to be lacking interest and personality. The styling was the exact same throughout the book, which was a bit boring. It’s a beautiful coffee table book for sure, but as for design, I’m not as impressed.
- Us Against You (Beartown #2) by Fredrick Backman (5 Stars): The perfect sequel to Beartown. I’m honestly shocked that I loved this because there’s just so many characters to follow. If you liked Beartown, then this is a must-read. You got to know each of the characters better and I found myself just smitten (again) with the author’s writing style.
- The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (4 Stars): The main characters aren’t as likable as you’d usually want (in my opinion) but maybe that’s what made this book so intriguing? I enjoyed it and am still thinking about the ending.
- Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (4 Stars): I’m usually not a fan of dual timelines but, for this book, it really made sense. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction set in WWII but this one was different in so many ways.
- Highland Cross Fire (Campbell Trilogy #3.5) by Monica McCarty (3 Stars): First off, Monica McCarty is my favorite historical romance author so if you haven’t checked her out… please do, but start at the beginning of her Highland books. She’s magical with weaving characters through the books and you really have to start at the beginning to understand each character and who is family to whom. For this particular book, I really wish it wasn’t a novella. I’ve followed these characters for years and I just wanted more. I loved this series overall but wanted way more of this story that what I got.
- The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Steward (5 Stars): I read this aloud to my 11 year old and we both loved it. The characters were interesting, the puzzles were fun and it left us wanting more.
What I read in April
- The Lines We Leave Behind by Eliza Graham (4 Stars): For some reason, this was a slower read for me but took me on a journey of feelings and thoughts. The book follows a young woman and her life as she finds love, risks her life during wartime, commits a serious crime and is admitted to an insane asylum (all in the 1940s). There were quite a few minor and major characters but I thought they were all really well done.
- Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (5 Stars): I was so caught up in this story. A young girl immigrates to the U.S. with her mother and the story follows her as she struggles to fit in at school, work in a factory at night and find the American dream.
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towels (4 Stars): I’m torn on my review of this book. Honestly, it’s probably a 3.5, if that was an option. Parts of it, I LOVED and parts were too descriptive. The main character, Katey, I loved. Being a single woman in Manhattan in the 1930s and just living her life was fun to witness. The overall storyline was great in some areas and less than stellar in others but overall, I enjoyed it.
- Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted by Kristi Nelson (1 Star): This book was part memoir and part self-help but neither part was very good.
- The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (3 Stars): This was a very slow thriller (is that a thing?). I was intrigued by the storyline throughout but wasn’t engaged until the last fifty pages or so. It follows a group of girls and their relationship at boarding school. At some point, the “lying game” that they make up takes a deadly turn. It was just ok overall.
- Salt Slow by Julia Armfield (1 Star): A collection of short stories that were all dark and weird. The writing style felt really beautiful but I couldn’t get into any of the stories themselves.
- Old Home Love by Andy Meredith (3 Stars): This is definitely a book to borrow, not buy. There isn’t enough content in the book to be super valuable. I love the concept of the book – loving on old homes and renovating them. I wish each house represented in this book showed more. Most houses in this book only had three photographs that were tightly photographed at that (meaning a small angle). If there were more photographs of each house, more insight, etc., I would have loved this.
- Share Your Stuff. I’ll go First: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level by Laura Tremaine (4 Stars): Part memoir and part self-help. I felt like some of the chapters were redundant yet I enjoyed them all!
- A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen (4 Stars): I read this aloud to my 11-year-old and we both enjoyed it. He said it was 5 stars. I wished that there was a bit more history interwoven in the story about the Berlin Wall. Overall, we were both engaged and liked it.
- On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (4 Stars): I read this as a read-aloud with my 11-year-old. He LOVED it and I didn’t. My rating reflects his thoughts on it (I would have given it 3 stars). If you are into fantasy juvenile fiction, this might be for you. It follows siblings as they embark to save themselves from fangs (which are lizard-like creatures trying to hurt them).
What I read in March
- The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Catalan (4 Stars): I didn’t know the background of asylums and psychiatry in the US until this book. I honestly can’t believe that just about 50 years ago, we were still doing lobotomies and other horrible procedures to “cure” mental illness. The background on all of that was eye opening. The rest of the book about David Rosenhan’s pseudo-patients and whether or not he was “The Great Pretender” was really up and down for me. I enjoyed parts of it but other areas felt disjointed. Some of the research and writing style made parts of the story hard to follow. Overall, I’m glad I read this though.
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (5 Stars): This book drew me in and was beautifully written. It follows Dinah’s life (the daughter of Leah and Jacob, from the Bible) and shows the power of loss, love, grief, anger, jealousy, etc. Honestly, now, I have to go re-read the Bible story to see what was fictionally altered. Anyways. Read this. Just read this.
- The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason (3 Stars): I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, yet I haven’t read many from the early 1900s. I really enjoyed the first half of the book. The story followed a young man and his life as a war doctor. Actually, he was still a medical student who was thrust, early, into becoming a practicing doctor. His emotions were on full display and I thought the first half of the book was really good. The second half though, wasn’t nearly as good. He gets relocated to different hospitals and from there, the family relations, love interests, etc, just aren’t as compelling.
- Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom by Lisa-Jo Baker (1 Star): I tend to like memoirs and motherhood tidbits but this just didn’t speak to me.
- The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (4 Stars): Kristin Hannah does it again with this story. It’s based during the time of the dust bowl and follows the story of a young woman named Elsa. She’s lonely and unloved as a child and then lonely and unloved as a married woman until she finds family and connection with her in-laws and children. She migrates west and finds more hardship, impossible choices and purpose. Overall, I didn’t feel like this book was quite as fluid as some of Hannah’s other books but it was still well-written and enjoyable.
- The Alchemyst : The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott (3 Stars): I read this as a read-aloud with my 11-year-old. He rated it as 4 stars and I gave it a 2. Here’s the deal… If you know background on Greek mythology and like fantasy, then it might be a good fit for you. He LOVES all things Greek mythology. I, on the other hand, know very little about it and so didn’t get the references to it throughout the book. You can read it without knowing about Greek mythology but it’s not as strong of a read. At the end, the author did go into detail about the characters in the book and how they were either based on real life or Greek mythology. We both found that so interesting.
- The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons #2) by Julia Quinn (4 Stars): Netflix got me hooked on this series. I actually think that this one is better than the first book. Honestly, it’s a pretty standard historical fiction, but enjoyable.
- Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (4 Stars): I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up and started reading it. The first half of the book follows a mother and her life as the mom of three kids and wife to a doctor. The second half, follows her life as it changes when tragedy strikes her family. Her thoughts and emotions throughout the book definitely resonated with me. If you pick this one up, just know that it’s heavy with grief.
What I read in February
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (3 Stars): I would say that my rating has more to do with not being the intended audience for this book instead of the quality of the book. For any aspiring authors, I think this book would be highly regarded. For me, it was a little too much detail for the interest I have in writing. Overall though, I enjoyed his story and some of the more technical chapters on writing.
- Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (2 Stars): I wanted this to be good and, although it kept my attention, it wasn’t great. But, it is a NYT Bestseller, so what do I know?! I kept waiting on the suspense to build, the plot to deepen, the excitement level to go through the roof and that just didn’t happen. If you want a mediocre thriller to pass time then this might be it but otherwise, I’d pass.
- Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel (4 Stars): If you want a primer on different personality tests and how they can help you better understand those you live and interact with then this is perfect. I felt like this gave me better insight into my family and was an easy read.
- After Innocence by Brenda Joyce (2 Stars): This was a historical romance set in the early 1900s. If you are interested in NYC and the east coast wealthy society of the early 1900s then you might like this, as it was written about that time period.
- The (Almost) Zero Waste Guide: 100+ Tips for Reducing Your Waste Without Changing Your Life by Melanie Mannarino (3 Stars): This was a good entry-level book on reducing waste. I had heard most of the tips in here but I think it’s always good to be reminded/convicted of some of the things that we can do to improve our world. After reading this, I think I’m going to start a rain barrel to water my indoor plants!
- Torn Thread by Anne Isaacs (5 Stars): I read this as a read-aloud with my 11-year-old. It’s based on a true story. The book centers around two sisters who are preteens and their story as they try to survive a work camp during the holocaust. This was definitely written to be age appropriate for younger kids (5-7th grade) but also didn’t shy away from some of the horrors that went on during the war.
- The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1) by Julia Quinn (3 Stars): I never think movies/shows are better than the books they portray but, in this case, that is true. Netflix knocked this series out of the park and reading the book after watching it, was a bit of a letdown.
- Chiefs Kingdom: The Official Story of the 2019 Championship Season by Michael MacCambridge (5 Stars): The intro from Andy Reid was so good! The book reads as a play-by-play, which is fun. Definitely a book to cherish. As I was reading it, it was fun to remember what it felt like to be in the stands for most of those games.
- The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (3 Stars): This was a slow read for me but I stayed curious about the storyline throughout. The idea of a spiritual/romantic love and how they played out was interesting; although, the ending fell flat for me.
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin (2 Stars): I kept hearing about this book (and it’s rated almost five starts on Amazon!), so I decided to pick it up. Honestly, for me, it wasn’t great. I have a healthy viewpoint on saving versus spending and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing my life just to work. For someone who is unhappy with their life, day-to-day and how work/money plays into that… this might be a good fit.
Overall, I feel like my reading picks for February were so weird. A few of the holds that I had requested at the library all came available at the same time, so I think that’s why I ended up with so many self-help type books.
For next month, I’m ready to pick up some easy-to-read fiction books. Hopefully, I find a few that are great!
What I Read in January
- She Explores: Stories of Life-Changing Adventures on the Road and in the Wild by Gale Straub (2 Stars): The synopsis of the book is that it is a compilation of beautiful imagery and great personal narratives of women who are exploring out in the wild. For me, it was a bit of a let-down. Personally, I didn’t love the imagery. There is a filter or overlay on each, making them a bit dull. I view a collection of “stories” as more than one small page per story. I would have loved to read each story about each woman’s personal adventure and life focus and really understand/see the story. You just can’t get that done with just one to two pages per person. Ultimately, I didn’t feel connected to the adventures or the individual stories because each was just too short.
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (2 Stars): I read this with my eleven-year-old and, as an introduction to what a dystopian world looks like, we liked it. But, for this to be considered a “classic” and a “must-read”… I’d totally disagree. Overall, we felt like it was too descriptive in ways that didn’t matter and was just boring. If you are looking to introduce dystopian fiction to your kiddos, you might pick it up but, for us, we could have passed and been fine.
- Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Webter (4 Stars): Nadia was honest, gruff and some of her metaphors were just so spot-on for me. I think she’d highly offend most of the people who are in my life who are conservative Christians. Personally though, I thought her story, her faith, hearing about liturgy, etc. was great!
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (4 Stars): I kept hearing about this book and it won a Pulitzer Price in 2009. For me, it wasn’t a book that you can read in a day. It’s a book that you really have to marinate on. It centers around the main character, Olive Kitteridge and takes us through her life (over a time span of about forty years or so). What she experiences during that time span are pieces of life that are so true yet often not written about. Her grief, her love, her life… it rang so incredibly true to me. I definitely enjoyed the book, but it’s also sad.
- The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (3 Stars): I couldn’t relate to the main character at all. During the first half of the book, I was constantly wondering why/how she’d be ok with a polygamist marriage. So, the first half was all about her feelings and what it looked like to see her husband one day per week. The second half, she becomes obsessed with finding out who the other wives are (because she doesn’t know them). From there, the twists and turns are unbelievable and, although I was more intrigued at the end… it still wasn’t great.
- Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor (5 Stars): As someone who has struggled with the Christian theology that you “just need to have more faith” or “pray harder,” this book was exactly what I needed. From sitting in the dark (physically and spiritually) and learning to accept yourself there; it all rings true. I can’t wait to read more by her.
- Ember Falls (The Green Ember Series #2) by S.D. Smith (4 Stars): First off, this is a middle grade children’s fiction series that Greyson (who is 11) has been obsessed with. As something we both like, I occasionally will read books that he’s loved so we can talk about them. This (and the following books) are just that. So, here’s my thoughts… This was good. The last 1/4 of the book, I literally couldn’t put down and I had to know what was going on with the rabbit resistance and the two rabbits, Heather and Picket and how the story of the young heir developed.
- Ember Rising (The Green Ember Series #3) by S.D. Smith (4 Stars): There continues to be a lot of characters to keep up with, but it’s such a well-written series. This book further develops Heather and Picket’s story and makes you want/crave that happy ending but leaves you not sure how the whole series is going to end.
- Ember’s End (The Green Ember Series #4) by S.D. Smith (4 Stars): For someone who likes a series to end well, I was definitely pleased with the ending. If you like fantasy and are a fan of young adult novels, definitely try this series out.
I’ll continue to update this list of books of 2021 each month as the month ends. If you read something you love, leave me a comment below… I’d love to check it out. And, if you’ve read any of the books above… what did you think?
p.s. If you want to see what I read last year (there were some great ones!), check out my book list for 2020.