My Favorite Books of 2021

Despite keeping track of what I read each month, I have never posted a favorite list of books. In addition to sharing my reading here, I do mark books read in GoodReads, just to have a place with a big list. Because they use a 5 star rating system, I do rate each book I finish (though it’s never easy!). I already have a new, massive spreadsheet to track all sorts of stats about my future reading, thanks to the Currently Reading podcast! For this year, since I read more in 2021 than I ever have in a single calendar year, I thought I would share some of my favorites. These are some of the books that earned the coveted 5 star rating from me. One thing I know, each reader is unique. My favorites might not be yours, and vice versa. But I enjoy seeing why other people enjoyed certain books and hope you will too.

Fiction

  • The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – I didn’t know that a story about the Dust Bowl and the Depression would end up being about strong women, family love, and speaking up for what is right. Elsa was such a beautifully crafted character, leaving her unloving parents to create a new family, and then making difficult choices on behalf of her children during one of the worst environmental times in our history. I love this author and her gift for storytelling.
  • Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant – I LOVED this ridiculous book that can only be described as mermaid horror. An entertainment company commissions a huge boat of scientists to go out to the Mariana Trench in search of mermaids, which most people believe are mythical, but which the entertainment company already believes to be real because of the destruction of a previous ship they sent out there to make a movie. What unfolds is truly mermaid horror, so you can’t stand descriptive horror stories, this is not the book for you. If you like that, know that this is fun, ridiculous, fast-paced, and full of fun and diverse characters.
  • Falling by T.J. Newman – I heard it descriped as a “Can’t put down, make time because you will finish it in one night” on the Currently Reading podcast, so I knew it would be good. I started reading after dinner and I didn’t stop until I finished it. It was a great, fast-paced adventure! Pilot Bill is given an ultimatum – crash the plane he is flying or his family will be killed. What follows is a tale about people’s true character, who to trust, and who bares witness. This was an incredible story by a first-time author who was a flight attendant. I hope she writes more!
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J.Klune – This is a YA book, yet so much more! Linus Baker is a curmudgeon, who lives with his cat and works hard at his government job, inspecting orphanages that include magical children. But when he is sent on a classified assignment to review the situation in a special place, his entire world turns upside down. As he gets to know Arthur and the six children in the house in the cerulean sea, Linus learns about himself, love and friendship, and when it’s time to break the rules. I loved the musical references to many “golden oldies” and the interesting characters throughout the story. I love that a queer author was able to tell a genuine queer love story amongst fantasy and magic and some insane plot points!
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – This is one of my favorite books of 2021 for sure, and maybe beyond. What a sweet, heartwarming story that was full of scientific information. Grace is a junior high teacher with a biology degree, who is called upon to help save Earth when scientists discover something from space that will destroy Earth. While we learn what is happening in that time, we also flash to Grace waking up from a coma in a space shuttle, with no memory of where he is or why. As Grace gets his memory back, we learn what is happening in both story lines. I don’t want to spoil anything that happens, but this book was so phenomenal. There was a LOT of science, which is not my area of expertise, but I enjoyed hearing the descriptions. Anyone interested in space would also like this fun adventure! I heard that the audiobook version of this is incredible, so if that hooks you, go for it!
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris – Nella is the only Black women in the Wagner publishing office where she works in NYC. When another Black woman is hired, Nella hopes that she and the new employee, Hazel, can tackle the systemic racism of the publishing industry together. Soon Nella starts to get threatening anonymous notes to leave, and she isn’t sure whether she can trust Hazel or not. There are some interesting flashbacks and other narrators brought in throughout the story, and the reader is following along, unraveling the mystery of the previous Black women who have worked at Wagner. This was a fictionalized story based on a lot of reality, and there were a lot of unlikeable characters. The ending brought out a lot of emotions I need to talk about to other people who read this book (but I don’t want to spoil anything)!
  • Billy Summers by Stephen King – I have loved many Stephen King books in my lifetime, and I have read at least 5 of his books this year alone, but this was my favorite. This is a gritty story with some blood and guts, but it’s also got fun characters, hidden identities, and sweetness as well.
  • The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard (with a shout out for 56 Days by her as well!) – I love mysteries and thrillers, but rarely to I rate them as a 5 star read. They are usually a little too “fluffy” in the writing to get the highest rating from me. But I am now a CRH fan for life. Her stories are fast-paced, fun, full of good and evil, twists and turns, and are a wonderful adventure for a reader.
  • Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan – Truly one of my favorites of the year. This is a great book to read in winter, by a cozy fire (or a good ASMR room that simulates a cozy fire!). This is the kind of book you want to hug at the end. This is a book I did hug, with tears streaming down my face, at the end! I thank the Currently Reading podcast for putting this book on my radar. I’m proud to have purchased the book from an independent book store. This was a beautiful story about Megs, a college student, who wants to help her young brother George learn how C.S. Lewis came up with the idea to write The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Megs knows George is dying and wants to solve this mystery for him, so she goes off on a quest to meet Lewis and ask him this question. I loved that book as a child, but don’t remember all of the details. That didn’t matter. What this really was, was a story of love, about a love of reading and storytelling and friendship and family and imagination. It was incredible!
  • Pony by R.J. Palacio – This YA book, by the author of the incredible Wonder, was nothing like I expected, but everything I needed. A story about a young boy, some friends, a pony, some ghosts, and some bad guys along the way, lead up to a beautiful story.

Nonfiction

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson – This was the very first book I read in 2021. This is a powerful story that connects the history of American enslaved people with the caste system in India and with the Nazi party of German. Reading this educated me, made me question some history I thought I knew, and encouraged me to look at current systems in America through a new lens. When a book can do all that for me, and I’m still thinking about it 11 months later, it earns 5 stars from me.
  • Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level by Laura Tremaine – I have loved Laura Tremaine since I discovered her podcast, 10 Things to Tell You, a few years ago. I loved this book enough to gift it to multiple friends and family members, so that we could talk about the 10 prompts. Laura has a gift in creating opportunities for connection and this book is a perfect on ramp for better conversations.
  • The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee – I highly recommend this to every American – it’s a must read that is part historical lesson and part call to action. I appreciate the historical journey that McGhee takes us on, while rooting each example within a specific city and/or industry in the US. She paints a vivid picture that helps explain the white supremacy that our country was built on, and how we can work together to make a better America. This is not easy work, but it is necessary and well past the time for us all.
  • Miseducated: A Memoir by Brandon P. Fleming – You know a book was good when you want to hug it at the end, or in my case, when you are left with tears of happiness. I read this book because Brandon P. Fleming was our district’s guest speaker for our welcome back event with all staff in August. I wanted to read it before we heard him speak, to know his story. I’m so glad I did, because wow – what a powerful story he has! After an incredibly rough childhood, which he details in great pain, Brandon finds himself working in a factory after failing out of college, with no hopes for his future. Throughout his life, he had a few key mentors who got to know exactly where he was, offering their advice, support, and encouragement. Brandon worked his way back up, back into college, learning all of the things he should have learned in school and learning all of the things many schools still don’t teach (he found a passion for the Harlem Renaissance that reminds educators that REPRESENTATION matters!). This was a beautifully told memoir with lessons for educators and humans on how to meet people where they are, how to NOT miseducate our Black youth, and how to raise the bar for all. And then to be able to hear him speak, witness the passion, and meet me, was such a gift.
Brandon Fleming speaking at our district welcome back event

What were some of your favorite books of this year?

What books are already on your TBR (to be read) list for next year?

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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1 Response to My Favorite Books of 2021

  1. Pingback: What I Read in 2021 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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