If I thought 2020 was a weird reading year for me, I had no idea how much weirder 2021 would be. Between starting a flower farm, taking on a part-time job at the local newspaper, and just dealing with the general craziness that is life right now with 3 young kids, I did not read nearly as much as I have in recent years. And when I DID finally read, I found it very difficult to read anything that was too heavy, which pretty much knocked out the majority of the fiction on my TBR list 🙂
Since 2017, I have read 60+ books a year (not including audiobooks, because I don’t count those in my yearly total), but in 2021, I read just 36.
As a result of me struggling with reading anything too depressing or serious, 2021 was heavy on the nonfiction since there’s a ton of “niche” nonfiction I love reading (like memoirs about ordinary people living ordinary lives, or books on personal finance or gardening or homemaking), almost all of which isn’t heavy at all. Note: In my round-up list below, I’m not including any of the books I read on flower farming or flower arranging (though those were a big part of my reading year) because eventually I plan to do a post of all my favorites on that subject on my other blog.
It’s always fascinating to me which books end up making this list every year. Although I read plenty of good books this year — several of which I gave 4 stars to on Goodreads — not all of them had equal sticking power. For instance, I remember I enjoyed reading Lovely War and The Four Winds, but neither of them are on the list because they don’t get me as excited to talk about as the books below.
My criteria for my top reads for the year are fairly simple: Which books have stuck with me, which books made the biggest long-term impact, and which books am I most excited to recommend to others?
Below are the 8 reads I feel like that made the cut.
Note: There are affiliate links to the books mentioned below, which means that if you click through and end up making a purchase, I end up getting a few pennies off the sale, at no extra cost to you.
I have some odd little subjects I’m weirdly fascinated by, and one of those subjects involves wartime rationing (or cooking during The Great Depression) and making do with what you have on hand. I also love books where food and cooking play a pivotal role, and historical fiction is one of my favorite genres for sure, so obviously, The Kitchen Front shot right to the top of my TBR list as soon as I heard about it. It’s set during WWII, but what made me still willing to read it (since I’ve been getting a bit burned out of WWII stuff for awhile) is because it was about a wartime cooking competition to see which contestant could make the best dishes under the typical rationing guidelines, and the winner got to be a co-host of the show. I loved that there were so many characters to root for, I loved all the descriptions of the cooking and food itself, and I loved how this one had an uplifting ending. Did it sometimes seem a little melodramatic and unbelievable? Sure. But I still adored this one.
Another WWII pick surprisingly, although this one focuses less on the war and more on the story of the fate of the three children at its heart. Anna, Edmund, and William had already lost both of their parents, but when their formidable grandmother — their guardian — also dies, the solicitor of the family estate comes up with a wild plan. Since children from London are being shipped out to the countryside due to the dangers of the war, maybe the children would be able to find a new family that way? This was strongly reminiscent of books like A Little Princess and The War That Saved My Life, and I loved that it just felt like a warm, cozy hug from my childhood. Bonus: since the children befriend a local librarian, books and reading factor heavily into this novel, which is always a plus for me.
After reading (and LOVING) A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles forever cemented himself as “an author that I’ll read anything he writes.” This latest release of his — which just came out a few months ago — was a bit of a surprise, but it still had all the trademarks of Towles that I love the most: his deep, fleshed-out characters, his ability to capture a mood perfectly, and his unusual plotlines that keep you forever guessing until the very end. This is the coming-of-age story of Emmett and his brother Billy, who have both recently lost their father and who plan to go to California to make a new future for themselves and to hopefully find their mother, who abandoned them many years before. The trouble is, Emmett just got out of juvenile detention, and some of his buddies who served time there too have other plans. This book is a total wild ride that hops all over the place, and is clearly very reminiscent of the epic stories of old like The Odyssey. Not everyone is sold on the ending of this, but I actually thought it was brilliant.
Since romance was one of the few genres that felt “light” enough for me to handle this year, I actually read way more of it than I usually do, which also meant I also gave way more low ratings on Goodreads than I normally do because romance isn’t really my favorite :). However, this YA romance was overall fairly clean, was a fun riff off of You’ve Got Mail, and just was a great story to escape into. It was because I liked this one so much that I put Emma Lord’s newer release — You Have a Match — on my Summer 2021 Reading List, although I haven’t read it yet. Basically, the premise of this is two teenagers from two competing sandwich shops get into a war on Twitter over the big chain restaurant stealing the world-famous grilled cheese recipe from the mom-and-pop shop deli, and the fall-out that occurs once their Twitter war goes viral. Lots of fun, and one you could easily polish off in a weekend.
Since 2021 was the year that my husband and I finally decided to officially pursue early retirement (at the age of 50), it makes sense that this book would make the list. While this book is hardly a page turner, it is a great road map for how to invest in a non-complicated way, and when a book makes you totally change your whole approach to investing and to dump your financial advisor, you know it’s a solid one. This book is well known in FIRE (financial independence/retire early) circles, which is how I came to know of it. This definitely isn’t a book that would be of general interest to everyone, but it IS a really valuable tool if you’re looking to become financially independent or just to be a lot smarter about your money and your investments in general.
I used to follow Weaver’s blog for years and years, and when I saw that she’d finally finished the memoir she’d been working on forever, I got my hands on a copy right away. However, between moving twice last year and unexpectedly homeschooling and then being pregnant with my third before all that, this just got shoved to the back for a long time. This one was put back on my radar when I did my post on books I wanted to read for the 2021 Unread Shelves Challenge, and I’m so glad I finally read it. Tara’s relationship with her mom and her brother had always been complicated, and she had long desired a closer family relationship with both of them but wasn’t sure how to start. But when her mom decides to move back closer to her and her brother and then ends up purchasing a home with an out of control yard and overrun orchard, Tara starts to work on their bond, one weeding session at a time. Obviously I love how much gardening plays a role in this, and I also loved that Tara brought a lot of food and cooking into this, which is where her writing always soared the most on her blog. This is one I’ll likely reread in the future during the dead of winter, when I’m longing for the weather to warm up again so I can get outside and work in the soil again.
Confession: I’d never heard of Tasha Tudor before this year, although I quickly figured out after getting into this that she has quite a cult following and has for years. She is no longer alive, but her legend lives on through her paintings (she was a children’s book illustrator) and through these volumes that were published on her home and on her lifestyle, which was unique. She basically gave up nearly all modern conveniences to pursue a life of cozy beauty and painting and had her son (I think?) build her a cottage that looks like it’s been around forever on substantial acreage, which she converted into the most amazing cottage-style garden you’ve ever seen. Even though the photographs on this were taken well before digital cameras, the images are still magical, and I was surprised by how much I adored this peek into the different seasons through her eyes and through her gardens. This was whimsical and quirky and a total escape, and it made me want to create a secret garden (or two) just for the fun of it.
Winter has always been a hard season for me, and I tend to struggle with the lack of sunshine and time outside pretty bad come January every year. This year, I wanted to go into the winter season slightly more prepared, so I picked up this book of essays by Katherine May, who goes through each month of winter and looks at various patterns in nature or ways that different cultures adapt to the cold and dark, and then she also applies it to the “winters” of our lives, no matter the season they occur in. This gave me a fresh perspective on why “wintering” is important and how to even lean into the different rhythm and nature of it, and while the book didn’t deliver everything and more that I hoped for, it did help me to go into this January with a much better attitude, which is saying something indeed.
I would love to hear what books were YOUR favorites this year. Please drop a comment below and let me know some of the titles you read this year that made the most impact in your life!